May 28, 2022

With the belugas.. and a narwhal!

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Le BpJAM est le zodiac du GREMM From Baleinesendirect

A new season is getting underway aboard GREMM’s Zodiac, the BpJAM. New season, new team! This year, the crew is composed of two research assistants returning for their second consecutive season. After finishing a technical field work program as part of his college studies, Mathieu joined the GREMM in 2017 to participate in tracking large rorquals, after which he would go on to complete several missions as Marine Mammal Observer (MMO). As for Albert, he recently completed a Bachelor’s degree in biology at Université Laval after participating in an exchange program his senior year on the island of Svalbard in the Norwegian High Arctic.

Our main mission this year is beluga photo-identification. We must ensure the continuation of the annual St. Lawrence beluga census, which was first initiated over 30 years ago! The objectives of this project are manifold, but it notably offers researchers insight into the complex social relationships of St. Lawrence belugas. It’s a bit like a beluga Facebook.

In addition to continuing the photo-ID program, we also have a new project: aerial video recordings. Using a drone, the BpJAM team sets out to document a new facet of beluga life: their social interactions. Taken in a systematic manner, these videos offer a new glimpse of the daily lives of belugas under the surface, which was nearly impossible from aboard the boat. In particular, we want to better understand how and why belugas use a given habitat.

Thanks to this new tool, we were able to make a great discovery last Friday. After completing the classic photo-identification tracking of a group of about 50 to 60 belugas, we launch the drone. After a few minutes in the air, a group of belugas resurfaces. And to our surprise, the narwhal is amongst them! After the initial excitement of this discovery, our first question was: is this the same individual as the one observed in 2016 and 2017? We therefore landed the drone and took out our camera to take a few snapshopts. After photographing our vagrant as well as his companions from both sides, we were able to confirm that it was indeed the same narwhal!


While continuing the photo-ID program of belugas, the BpJAM crew identified a narwhal. This narwhal was also seen in 2016 and 2017. © GREMM

The research assistants observed a narwhal in a group of young belugas using images acquired by drone. © GREMM

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