Navigating the St. Lawrence Estuary? Belugas are Too!
When boating in the St. Lawrence Estuary, it is not unusual to encounter beluga whales. For recreational boaters, it is definitely a special encounter… but what about for the belugas?
For these marine mammals, the St. Lawrence Estuary is a critical living environment. They feed there, reproduce there, rest there, look after their young and socialize there. It is their unique territory and when we set foot there (or put our oar in!) we are always disturbing intruders. When a friendly looking beluga comes close to your boat, it is more to see who is venturing into its territory than to socialize. Is it a potential danger for this beluga or its pod?
You are perhaps not an immediate danger, but you have disturbed this whale. It has interrupted activities that are essential to its survival. It has left the pod or its young. During the birthing period and the weeks following, this disturbance can be fatal for the young. If a calf and its mother are separated, they might never find one another again. The young have very weak calls and, in the turbulent and often noisy waters of the estuary, the connection can easily be broken.
A fragile population
The St. Lawrence Estuary beluga is now listed as a threatened species under the Species at Risk Act. The disturbance caused by boats figures among the threats to its survival, much like pollution, the reduction in food resources and the degradation of its habitat. Commercial shipping, observation activities at sea and recreational boating are also sources of noise and disturbance.
Best practices to avoid being part of the problem
In the summer, you can encounter St. Lawrence belugas between Saint-Jean-Port-Joli and Rimouski, in the estuary, and up to Saint-Fulgence, in the Saguenay River. It is an area of heavy boat traffic as people discover the beauties of the river and its coastal landscapes. How should you react when you see one or more belugas? The web page Best Practices for Navigation around Beluga Whales in the St. Lawrence Estuary should help you to prepare. You will learn three important rules:
- Keep your distance.
- Slow down.
- Move away to more than 400 m.
More awareness raising
Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Saguenay–Saint-Laurent Marine Park will increase their presence on the water this summer to help raise the awareness of as many boaters as possible of best practices for boating around belugas. Also, you will see reminders throughout the territory and in the media to navigate with respect for this charming little white whale, symbol of our estuary.
Karina Laberge and Myriam Bourgeois