The Marine Park protects every living organism found in it, from the seabed to the surface of the water. Species at risk like the St. Lawrence population of beluga whales and the blue whale roam its waters. See how the park protects its biodiversity.
The Blue Whale is found in all the oceans of the world. This whale, the world’s largest living animal, is now listed as a species at risk due to pollution, collisions with boats and accidental entanglement in fishing gear. The North Atlantic population that uses the Marine Park counts as little as 250 to 300 individuals.
The snow-white beluga is the easiest to identify of all whales. Although hunting was banned in 1979, the population is failing to recover: there are only 889 individuals left. As belugas spend all year in the St. Lawrence, they are exposed to pollution and disturbance from recreational boating and marine transportation traffic.
The fin Whale is the second largest animal in the world after the Blue Whale. It was heavily hunted in the 20th Century, and the population plummeted. Hunting was banned in 1972, but the fin Whale is still vulnerable to habitat disturbance, collisions and pollution, as are all whales.
During the fall and winter, nearly one third of the Barrow’s Goldeneye population inhabiting Eastern North America come to spend time in the shallow rocky bays of the St. Lawrence Estuary.
If a catastrophe should occur, such as an oil spill, the gregarious behaviour of these ducks would be disastrous to their survival. Forestry operations also threaten the Barrow’s Goldeneye’s breeding grounds, as they nest in trees.
Over the past 30 years, the Atlantic Cod population has suffered a 90% decline. Fishing, although highly controlled, changes in habitat and life history of the fish as well as predation put pressure on cod stocks. Yet, the high levels of early natural mortality appear to be the main factor in their decline. The data collected by Fisheries and Oceans Canada suggest the presence of several cohorts in the Saguenay River, where limited seasons of recreational fishing open periodically in this part of the park.
This fish is a predator that haunts the ocean depths. Although it is not fished commercially, a decline in the current population has been detected. Incidental catches of Atlantic Wolffish in the trawl nets used in deep-sea fishing are probably hampering its recovery.
Beluga whales are grayish white and the juvenile stage to adulthood. When mature, it measures between 3 and 5 meters. It resides in the year in the St. Lawrence Marine Park has several places where females give birth to their young and care for them.
The beluga has a varied diet, feeding on fish and invertebrates. Pregnant and nursing females must address significant energy needs. The protection of their habitats and their favorite food is essential for the recovery of this population.
In earlier times, belugas were abundant in the waters of the St. Lawrence. There were between 7,800 and 10,000 at the end of the 19th century. Unfortunately, intensive commercial whaling in the early 20th century very nearly made them disappear. Despite the fact that whaling has been banned since 1979, the beluga population has not been restored. It is estimated that the population is actually in decline. Today, it would appear that only 889 belugas remain in the St. Lawrence.
“ The area of the Marine Park is probably the only place where the beluga whale and the blue whale meet.”
The need to protect the beluga and a large part of its summer habitat prompted the creation of the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park in 1998. It also led to the implementation of a number of protection, research and awareness-increasing activities. Many organizations, institutions and governments contribute to the efforts in this regard.
Protecting a given environment starts with understanding that environment. This is why scientific research is an essential tool to protect biodiversity. It allows to measure the effectiveness of protection measures and helps to mitigate the effects of human activities on the marine environment.
Excerpts from the field notes of a beluga observer – summer 2015.
In collaboration with Parcs Québec, a Parks Canada team is studying the beluga whale in two specific areas of the Marine Park: at the mouth of the Saguenay River and in Baie Sainte-Marguerite, where pods of adult belugas and their calves spend a substantial part of the summer. The knowledge thus acquired and invaluable support of the local population will help us to better protect this magnificent marine mammal.
On board “L’Alliance”, Parks Canada researchers navigate the Marine Park waters to find out what’s on the menu for whales, seals, and birds. Their equipment is specially designed to detect krill and fish below the surface. Understanding the available food of endangered species such as the beluga and the blue whale is invaluable to better protect their habitat. The first results of this study have contributed to the identification of the feeding grounds most used by baleen whales.
With the information gathered by the research teams, the shipping industry has agreed to collaborate by reducing the speed of ships in the main feeding areas to reduce the risk of collisions with whales
At the initiative of Parks Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, a working group designed specific measures for the protection of whales. The pilots of merchant and passenger vessels are asked to adapt their sailing in areas frequented by whales. They pay particular attention to the presence of animals, slow down in feeding areas and avoid sailing in the area most frequented by blue whales.
For more information on research projects on marine mammals of the St. Lawrence: https://baleinesendirect.org/en/discover/whales-future/conservation/#concertation
The Marine Park is home to an incredible diversity of life, including many endangered species for which this habitat is essential to their survival.
Scientific research allows to discover secrets of the underwater life, the dynamics specific to the Marine Park’s ecosystems and their inhabitants.
Knowledge is the basis for development of programs for protection and recovery of species and ecosystems. It pushes the search for innovative solutions for the development of regulations and voluntary measures.
While boating on the St. Lawrence River, you may encounter blue whales. In order to find food, they take long dives and hunt day and night for several weeks. Your presence in their habitat can disrupt their diving rhythm and reduce their feeding and resting time.
When in the presence of a blue whale, change direction to go around it while maintaining a distance of at least 400 metres. Be on the lookout, as other whales could surface nearby.