The Great Blue Whale may be observed in the St. Lawrence from May to July but is more present in August and September, the blue whale is the largest of all whale species. Also called The Great Blue Whale, this sea mammal can exceed 30 meters in length and can weigh from 80 to 120 tons. It is the largest known living animal on our planet. Long and thin, the body of the blue whale can take different shades of bluish gray on the back and a little lighter underneath. There are at least three distinct subspecies: those living in the Northern Atlantic and Northern Pacific, those living in the Antarctic Ocean, and those living in the Indian Ocean and Southern Pacific. Like the majority of whales, the blue whale feeds mainly on krill, a small crustacean, but also sometimes eats fish and squid. There were thousands of blue whales in all oceans before the beginning of the 20th century, but the blue whale came close to extinction before being protected by the International Community in 1966. Today, the species is still considered threatened.
Mainly seen in summer (June and July) and sometimes from August to October, the humpback whale is the favorite subject for whale watching tourism, as it often performs spectacular jumps out of the water. Adult individuals are usually 11 to 13 meters long and weigh between 25 to 30 tons. The humpback whale is easily recognizable. The top of the animal is entirely black or dark gray and the underside is rather white. It has large pectoral fins and its black and white caudal fin, comes out of the water when the whale dives. Humpback whales are known not only for their spectacular jumps, but also for their long, complex songs that they perform during the mating season (so it is assumed that these are songs of seduction).
After the blue whale, it is the second largest living animal on the planet, with a length of about 20 meters. The fin whale migrates each year to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in May and it is mainly seen from July to October, even sometimes until November. Although no weight measurement has been done on a normal adult, it is estimated that a 25-meter long adult weighs no less than 40 to 50 tons. Its long, streamlined body allows it to move quickly. This whale species, despite being able to live for a hundred years (the oldest one lived about 111 years), is still considered threatened today. The population in the Northern Hemisphere is estimated at 40,000 whales.
Also called the white porpoise, the beluga is very well known in Quebec. This white cetacean from the Arctic Ocean is very well adapted to life in cold waters. It has a thick layer of fat under the skin, which serves as insulation and energy reserve. It can measure between 3 and 5 meters and weigh from 1 to 2 tons. It is the only cetacean resident year-round in the waters of the St. Lawrence, in which it feeds and breeds. The population of the St. Lawrence Estuary is geographically isolated from other beluga populations. It is possible to observe them easily from May to October. The St. Lawrence beluga population is estimated at about 1100 individuals (compared to 10 000 before 1885). Pollution from human activities greatly impacts on beluga whales’ health. According to a Canadian researcher, there would be twice as much mercury in belugas and some fish than twenty years ago. The beluga population in the St. Lawrence is probably the most endangered among beluga populations in the world.
The minke whale is easily observed in the St. Lawrence from May to October. With an average length of 6 to 10 meters, the minke whale is the smallest baleen whale. It can weigh from 6 to 10 tons. The minke whale is one of the most frequently observed species when whale watching (especially between Tadoussac and Les Bergeronnes). From March to December, minke whales travel to the coastal waters of the estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence to feed. During summer, minke whales abound at the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord. This small whale has a global distribution, from the tropics to the polar regions. It is common to observe in coastal areas and estuaries. Its world population is estimated at several hundred thousand individuals.
These small cetaceans, from 1.5 to 2 meters long, are present in cold coastal waters. They are often observed in the St. Lawrence from late June to late September. Although they are still and by far the most widespread cetaceans, their numbers are decreasing, as their healt is impacted by ocean pollution and human activities (boat transportation for instance). They are therefore considered a vulnerable specie. In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, its population is estimated at more than 20,000 individuals.
Three different species of seals can be seen along the shores of the St. Lawrence River and the Saguenay Fjord. Gray seals and harbor seals are present throughout the year, while the harp seal usually visits the St. Lawrence in winter.
Sea mammals have always fascinated mankind. The best known ones are without a doubt the whales. Every years, these magnificent animals perform the longest migrations of all known animal reign. In the Northen hemisphere, they leave the western coast of Mexico, where they spend the winter, and travel about 9,500 km until they reach the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean. Late in autumn, except the belugas, all whales leave the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park.
Fortunately for us, whales make a stop during the summer in the waters of the St. Lawrence and the Saguenay – St. Lawrence Marine Park is the best place to observe them. In these summer feeding areas, no less than 13 species of cetaceans can be observed, ranging from the great blue whale to the fin whale to the famous humpback whale, and the friendly beluga whale. The St. Lawrence Estuary and the Saguenay Fjord region are therefore ideal sites for whales and other marine mammals. In some places, like Les Escoumins, you can even see them from the shore.
When searching for whales, the first visible sign to locate them and make a first attempt to identify the species is the breath of the whale. These blasts over the water, are actually the expiration of air through their nose, which is on the top of the head and that is called the “vent”.
It is important to avoid disturbing the whales while observing them. This is why all our whale-watching tours are made in accordance with the rules of the Saguenay – St. Lawrence Marine Park. We are also proud to use eco-friendly and safe-for-whales boats!