Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021

Montreal’s rare humpback whale sighting draws crowds and concern

Montreal’s now-famous wandering humpback whale has been causing crowds of people to flock to the city’s Old Port to catch of glimpse of the mighty creature.

This is the first time in recorded history that this species of whale has been spotted this far up the St. Lawrence River.

Humpback whales usually live in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and can be seen near Tadoussac, Baie-Comeau and Rivière-du-Loup, all cities about 500 kilometres away.

The reasons why the whale has travelled so far are still unknown and that is perplexing local marine scientist Marie-Eve Muller.

“It might be because it followed prey , it might be because it’s a young whale exploring or it could because the whale is disoriented, ” said Muller, who works at the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network.

Agents from Canada’s Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans are out on the water patrolling the area, making sure people respect the 100-metre distance rule imposed by the Marine Mammal Regulations of the Fisheries Act.

Since the whale’s arrival on Saturday, it has not affected maritime traffic according to authorities at Port of Montreal.

In a statement, officials said they will be keeping a close eye on the mammals’ movements to ensure that commercial shipping does not negatively impact the animal’s health, as ships pose a serious danger.

“We are really asking the collaboration of everyone who wants to go on the water if ts possible its best for the whale’s safety,” Muller said.

Officials say the whale also poses a danger for small pleasure crafts who get to close.

While recently the whale has calmed down, it’s been seen breaching dramatically in the water.

“You would not want to a 9.5-metre animal on you,” Muller said.

Naturally, humpback whales are native to saltwater but they can survive in freshwater for weeks and even months on end, Muller said.

However the long stay in the freshwater could be harmful to the animal, the emergency response network has noticed some skin irritation already developing on the whale.

Diet is also something that is unknown to experts but Muller says they are known to be able to go on without eating for weeks at a time.

No efforts are planned to force the whale from the waterway for now.

Emitting sounds of killer whales or even towing the animal have been used in similar situations, but experts fear it may do more harm than good.

Optimistically they hope to see the whale head downstream on its own within the next two weeks.

“I know it’s hard to hear but sometimes the best action is to is to let the nature do its work.”

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