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Quebec Bulletin
August-September 2017/Volume 20/Number 4

An Uncommon Visitor to a New Brunswick River

•	Photo showing the beluga's capture by a group of experts in the river
Experts safely capture the young beluga caught in Nepisiguit River.

It's early June. The Maritime Marine Animal Response Network and the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network receive reports of a young Beluga whale in the Népisiguit River, near the city of Bathurst, New Brunswick. The Department's teams are quickly contacted to assess the situation and to determine the various actions to be taken.

The animal took advantage of high water levels to travel up the river and was trapped at the top of a rapid. Despite being in the river for several days, the beluga seems vigorous and in fairly good health. However, experts worry about the increase in temperature and the decrease in water level. Although these animals spend a lot of time in river estuaries, their bodies are not adapted to spend extended amounts of time in them.

Relocate the animal to its traditional habitat
The experts decide to relocate the animal to its traditional habitat: the St. Lawrence Estuary. It should be noted that the St. Lawrence Beluga whale is on the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Declining since the early 2000s, the population is estimated at fewer than 900 individuals. In this light, the survival of one individual could influence the recovery of the population. However, for the last 17 years, this is only the second time that a relocation effort like this one has been organized.

Photo showing the beluga being transported by several people on a stretcher after it was removed from the river
The beluga was removed from the river in order to relocate it to its traditional habitat, the St. Lawrence Estuary.

Coordinated by the Department, the rescue operation - which includes capturing, transporting and releasing the beluga - requires the cooperation of numerous stakeholders. Three teams of veterinarians from the Université de Montréal and the aquariums in Vancouver and Chicago come to lend a hand to the fishery officers, scientists and locally recruited volunteer teams. Nearly all of the operation's funding is provided by private funds.

A successfull operation
After several hours of trying to safely capture the animal, it is transported by truck to the Bathurst airport and placed on a plane to Rivière-du-Loup. A 30-minute flight under close medical supervision was needed before the young beluga is released in late afternoon on June 15, near Cacouna, Quebec.

Using a satellite beacon, the animal's movements were monitored for close to two weeks after its release. So, the rescue operation confirmed that it is possible to return a young solitary beluga to its population. The information that was collected and the tests that were performed will help protect this endangered population.

Antoine Rivierre
Fisheries Management

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