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Studying marine mammals at the Mériscope Center in Portneuf-sur-mer

(Version française de ce texte)

Hello all!

After a stay on Somerset Island (Nunavut) to observe belugas, after having kayaked with belugas in Churchill (Manitoba), I am now participating in a two weeks field course at the Mériscope, a marine mammal research center located in Portneuf-sur-mer, on the north shore of the St-Lawrence estuary (between Tadoussac and Baie Comeau).

Mériscope, marine mammal research center

Founded ten years ago by Daniel (Dany) Zbinden, marine biologiste of Swiss origin, the Mériscope’s goal is to promote marine mammal research and education. To reach its goal, the center offers (from July to September) two week field courses allowing participants to learn about the marine mammals’ environment and biology while helping the center finance its research projects.

I met Dany in April 2012 during the « Polar Educators Workshop » that was held as part of Montreal’s International Polar Year conference. Listening to him talk with so much enthusiasm of his center and his research, I quickly concluded that participating in one of his workshop would allow me to better my knowledge of various whale species that live in polar seas.

Since Monday, I have been accompanying Dany and his team of three biologists (two from Switzerland, one from Germany) as well as three university students (from Switzerland) in their research projects on marine mammals.

Dany Zbinden & Sandra during one of our outing on the estuary.

The first thing that striked me when I arrived at the Mériscope was the panorama. Located on a promontory, the center offers a striking view of the St-Lawrence estuary, of the Portneuf River, as well as Portneuf-sur-mer’s sand bar and salt-meadow, famous with bird watchers.

View from the Mériscope’s belvedere at high tide.

The 207 steps of the stairs that separate the Meriscope’s belvedere from the sand bar’s section named Pointe-à-Fortin. View at low tide.

The Mériscope at the top of the promontory.

The Meriscope as seen from the beach of the Pointe-à-Fortin.

Portneuf-sur-mer’s sand bar.

Located near the mouth of the Portneuf River, the belvedere faces one of the most important feeding areas of the baleen whales. The most abondant species in the area are the blue whales, the minke whales and the finback whales. Among toothed whales, the belugas and harbour porpoises are the ones most frequently observed even though it is not impossible to see humpback whales, sperm whales or orcas (Usually an orca is reported every two years. Lucky were those who saw one last week.)

To date we have done two outings for the purpose of photo-identifying minke whales, finback whales and blue whales. At both occasions, several whale species were indeed in the neighbourhood: Minke whales, blue whales, harbour porpoises, belugas. Curious grey seals also came by to take a peek at us.

Dany and his sister Tanya, bringing the «Narval» (narwhal), one of the Meriscope’s two zodiacs, in preparation for our first outing.

To end this first text on my stay at the Mériscope, here are a few photos of the whales we crossed path with.

Minke whale with Portneuf-sur-mer in the background.

A young minke whale that had fun circling and going under our zodiac. The white flipper band, a characteristic of the specie.

Blow of a blue whale at sunset.

Blue whale.

Till next time!

Sunset on the St-Lawrence estuary from the Mériscope’s belvedere.

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