Sunday, October 11, 2009

Belugas and Blues: Whale Watching St. on the Lawrence

October 6, 2008
Deborah and I arrived in Quebec airport at 1030pm – an hour late. Canadian customs is one of the most annoying systems on earth. The length of lines is usually atrocious, worse than Narita airport at Tokyo. But this time we were at the head of the line and checked through quickly. Ah, in the clear for a decent arrival at our hotel and a good night sleep.
When we reached the final official to whom you normally hand your customs declaration, virtually anywhere in the world, you are into the country. But no, the young lady with the big iron on her hip in a blue para military uniform put us into a special holding area and we wait and wait and wait. Behind us about ten individuals or couples singled out for one reason or another lengthen the line. We at least are at the head of the line.
For an hour and fifteen minutes, as I decline into a hypoglycemic torpor, we wait for someone to come and deal with us. When an official finally addresses us he has many questions. He wants to know if we are working in Canada and if we are going to sell our gear. We talk for a long while explaining that we are attending a conference on marine mammals and are not traveling second-hand camera salesmen. Eventually the pressure of the people behind us sighing and shuffling forces him to let us through. Why the hell would I want to sell my camera? To be fair the customs agent was perfectly courteous.
And from that point on the French Canadians defied their reputations as some of the world’s most unfriendly people. Maybe it is because I speak a bit of French but we have been greeted in an unusually cordial and friendly manner through our entire stay so far.
October 7. It’s raining in the morning as we drive toward Tadoussac. The fall colors are radiant, even in the rain and fog. The hotel Tadoussac is one of those classics you find in National Parks, anyway a mini version of them. The living room with fireplace looks out over the St. Lawrence. Food is excellent and the rooms adequate.
It’s exciting to think we are so close to Belugas, not to mention blue whales, humpbacks, minkes and many other cetacean species. The area looks pristine. It is not. The St. Lawrence is vast but not big enough to handle the flood of pollutants that have come from upstream
We take a commercial whale watch and immediately spot belugas - pretty far away but still my first sighting of this species that has intrigued me so long. I will save a discussion of the survival prospects of these dolphins (though they are called beluga whales they are a species of dolphin) for a subsequent blog. New information will be released at the forthcoming conference.
During the trip we also see minkes feeding right by our boat and blue whales a couple hundred yards from us. It’s October and generally the true whale species would have departed but we’re lucky and they’re still here.
Without exaggeration the St. Lawrence is one of the great whale watching venues on earth.
Once in Quebec at the environmental health workshop I describe my experience whale watching to two young Japanese scientists who were delighted at the prospect of similar encounters the following day.

1 comment:

Keely said...

Hi, I'd like to know what makes you say that belugas are actually dolphins? That comment is true of Killer Whales, or Orcas, who ARE in the Odontocetes-Delphinidae, or 'oceanic dolphins' family, but Narwhals and Belugas are a family of their own - 'Monodontidae'.

Additionally, another thing that characterizes dolphins, is their skull morphology - and cone shaped teeth. I've seen the skulls of dolphins, porpoises, belugas and narwhals - the morphology is different, as is the teeth. Dolphins are identified as having cone shaped teeth, and I've seen beluga teeth - not cone shaped, certainly not to the degree of the delphinidae family.

I'm confused as you seem to be rather knowledgeable of marine mammals, certainly as you are attending the conference - but I'm really questioning that particular comment of yours. If you have anything that sheds light on that, please let me know.

Thanks