June 20, 2010

For a large part of the last 3 weeks, we’ve been land-locked. Strong winds have forced us to remain at the station and catch up with data-entering, administration, boat maintenance, equipment testing, and various other odd-end jobs…

Petra showing knot-tying to team members working on Twister

We’ve have been offshore around 4 times this season, and only half of the time did we find the whales! They seem to roam around quite a bit at the beginning of the summer, searching for a suitable feeding spot, and once the season progresses, the animals have a tendency to aggregate in one location (which makes our job much easier!). Last week, we had another juvenile humpback whale (H691, male, 3 years old) within the islands. Very relaxed, swimming slowly close to shore, and possibly feeding on the capelin we saw just below the water’s surface.

Humpback H691 near Île-au-Perroquet island

Today, one of our boats set off to check out the western limit of our research area. In order to save time travelling by sea to get to this area, we drove the boat to Rivière-au-Tonnerre, a small village 45 minutes west of Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan. On one hand, we hope to locate the whales today, but on the other hand, it will be logistically challenging with long travel times if the whales remain in this western sector. In 2007, we had a similar situation where the whales stayed for an extended period in the west. So we decided to move our boats from the Mingan harbour to the Rivière-au-Tonnerre harbour. Just a simple question of adapting to your study subject!

We have exciting new research projects starting this year including one lead by Dr. Brian W. Kot (Texas A&M University, USA). The main objective of Dr. Kot’s project is to gather new information about interactions between whales and ropes and buoys. He is testing for behavioural responses of minke whales to different types of ropes and buoys. In addition to surface observations of whale behaviour near experimental ropes and buoys, he also records underwater whale vocalizations and swimming behavior using hydrophones and underwater video cameras. Results from his project will hopefully contribute new information toward more effective conservation and management of marine mammals and fisheries. 

Brian Kot and the underwater video camera enclosed in a protected casing

Another new project on the acoustic behavior of minke whales is lead by Denise Risch (NOAA, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Woods Hole). Little is known about the vocal behavior of minke whales in the North Atlantic. Recordings of minke whales in this ocean basin have been made since the 1970s, yet concurrent visual and acoustic data sets that can link an acoustic recording to a known minke whale sighting are still very rare.

Denise’s project will use a single underwater hydrophone, produced by the Bioacoustic Research Program (BRP) at Cornell University to record minke whales sounds in the Mingan Archipelago. Additionally, she will track minke whales using a theodolite (to obtain accurate positions of animals) and binoculars from an elevated land observation site. The goal of her project is to record minke whale vocalizations and link them with visual sightings. In this way it will be possible to describe new sounds for this species and also possibly link them with observed behavior.

Denise Risch and her hydrophone

Our interpretation center has been open for nearly one week now, and the tourists are gradually arriving in the area. We hope to welcome many new visitors this year and share our wonderful experiences with you- after all, we are just as excited about educating the public as we are about our research!