Text written by Félix Feider, 22-year-old final year undergrad studying Marine Sciences at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He participated in a 2-week research programme at the Mingan Islands Cetacean Study in Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan, Québec, Canada.
My whale research adventure in Canada started in late July. I boarded a Dash from Montreal to Sept-Iles, said goodbye to the big city life and hello to the Canadian wilderness. After a 2-hour drive, I arrived in small, but charming, Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan on the North Shore. It was immediately clear that this region is a hidden gem, with little tourists coming here and a lot of people never even having heard of it (including me until a few months ago). On the north side of the town is vast, seemingly endless dense forest and on the south side is the Mingan Islands Archipelago and the St. Lawrence, sprawling with life. The weather in this region is very volatile, with cloudless skies suddenly turning stormy and rainy. Only good weather conditions allowed us to go out on sea to look for whales. On a good day we would get up at 6am and prepare the 2 inflatable boats to be ready to leave Mingan at 7:30. The archipelago itself hosts a range of smaller marine mammals, such as seals, porpoises and even minke whales. However, the main focus of the research station lies on blue whales, fin whales and humpback whales in the St. Lawrence, which use the highly productive waters closer to Anticosti Island in the south as feeding grounds. After a 1.5-hour drive, the first whales could be spotted. The very first whale that I saw was a right whale, which are relatively new to this area and have encountered hazardous events here in the last weeks, with close to two percent (10 individuals) of the North Atlantic population (estimated to be slightly higher than 500 individuals) having died due to anthropogenic reasons, such as ship collisions and fishing gear entanglements. The North Atlantic right whale is listed as critically endangered, meaning that the species is at risk of going extinct if more animals keep dying than entering the population.