Cow and calf blue whale pair sighted in Gaspe Bay

One of our collaborators at the eastern end of the Gaspé Peninsula (Jean-Francois Blouin) was able to get out on the water in Gaspé Bay and find a cow and calf blue whale pair that had been sighted over the last week. He and a colleague took some ID pictures of the 21st blue whale calf we have seen over 32 seasons of fieldwork. Spring came early this year, which made for ice-free waters and drew blue whales into the inshore waters to feed on krill.

The reason for such low numbers of blue whale calves is still a mystery to us, especially when compared to the good number of humpback and fin whales calves regularly seen each summer in the St Lawrence. Could it be that the reproductive rate observed in the St Lawrence is a true representation for blue whales in eastern Canadian waters or even in the western North Atlantic in general? If so why; do most blue whale females accompanied by a calf prefer to stay outside the St. Lawrence, are hormone deregulating pollutants the cause, or are western North Atlantic blue whales encountering other reproductive impediments linked to small population size or behavior. It may be a combination of a small population that has not recovered sufficiently recovered since whaling occurred, and is affected by pollutants and other ecosystem impacts. If we ever get to survey offshore waters-as we hope to this summer- we may find that there are in fact many more blue whales offshore including females and calves.

Even though we have seen blue whale calves as late as September in the St. Lawrence, most of the blue whale calves have been seen earlier in the season. It is possible that they are weaned earlier than humpback and finback whale calves, which continue to produce a stable number of offspring season after season. Earlier weaning of blue whale calves could be an important reason for our low sighting rate.
Jean-François Blouin has collaborated with Dr. Moira Brown from the New England Aquarium in her right whale work off Gaspé and Baie des Chaleur for several years and has recently joined in contributing to our blue whale research. Each year during any spare time from his regular job, Jean-François plies the waters from Forillion to Chaleurs Bay in search of blue, right and humpback whales. We thank him for his valued collaboration and contributions.

The images provided of the cow and calf did not yield a match for the mother, so hopefully we will see her again this year or another year, but at least we know that reproduction in this group of blue whales is occurring even if it appears to be at a very low rate.