RaceRocks.com
Videocams Ecosystems History First nations Sponsors
Management Home
JOURNAL& NEWSPAPER REPORTS
MARINE MAMMAL HARRASSMENT
Videocams
Archives
Technology
Events
Dailylog
Sitemap
CONTENTS OF THIS FILE:

1. Impact of small boats on the haulout activity of harbour seals (_Phoca vitulina_) in Metis Bay, Saint Lawrence Estuary, Quebec, Canada.

2. Move over for the whales: Canadian government is moving to ensure enthusiastic humans give Tadoussac's gentle giant a little more quiet space for feeding

The following is an abstract as it appears in an issue of _Aquatic Mammals_. _Aquatic Mammals_ is the journal of the European Association for Aquatic Animals; these abstracts are posted as a courtesy to the EAAM and journal editor. The current editor of the journal is Dr. Jeanette A. Thomas, Laboratory of Sensory Biology, Western Illinois University Regional Center, 3561 60th Street, Moline, IL 61265,
**** Henry, E. and M.O. Hammill.* 2001. Impact of small boats on the haulout activity of harbour seals (_Phoca vitulina_) in Metis Bay, Saint Lawrence Estuary, Quebec, Canada. _Aquatic Mammals_ 27(2):140-148. *Maurice Lamontagne Institute, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, BOX 1000, Mont-Joli, QC G5H 3Z4, Canada
The impact of small boats on harbour seal haulout behaviour was studied from May to August 1997 in Metis Beach, Canada. The number of seals hauled-out increased throughout the summer and was affected by air temperature, tide, and wind direction. Disturbances most often were caused by kayaks and canoes (33.3%), motor boats (27.8%), and sailboats (18%). Numbers of seals hauled-out decreased after a disturbance, except during the molting period when seals seemed more reluctant to enter the water. The most severe reaction was seen with the approach of kayaks-canoes with a flushing response of 86% compared to 74% by motor boats and 0% by sailboats. While animals were hauled-out, they spent over 70% of their time resting and comfort behaviour and 11-34% of their time in alert behaviour. Increases in alert behaviour by seals occurred during a disturbance, but changes were quite subtle.
PUBLICATION The Gazette (Montreal) DATE Sat 29 Sep 2001 EDITION Final SECTION/CATEGORY Science PAGE NUMBER I8 BYLINE MICHAEL SHENKER STORY LENGTH 1575
HEADLINE: Move over for the whales: Canadian government is moving to ensure enthusiastic humans give Tadoussac's gentle giant a little more quiet space for feeding Every summer the big whales come to this stretch of the St.Lawrence River to eat, not to capture our imagination. But that's what they do, once the tour boats hit the water. "To me, it's magic to see these animals," said Marlene Harris president of the Montreal Zoological Society, which has organized scores of whale-watching trips over the years. "It's a spiritual thing." Indeed, encountering a 100-tonne giant as it surfaces for a gulp of air has left many a human scrambling for words. Thousands of people come here every day to experience that magic. The problem, scientists say, is that sometimes the whales just want to be leftalone. When the blue whales, finbacks, minkes and humpbacks arrive in June to feed on rich stocks of fish and krill, they're met by dozens of whale-watching boats packed with adoring fans. On any given day the whale boats can outnumber the whales, and it's not unusual to see four or five inflatable Zodiacs, with a dozen passengers each, moving in on a single feeding animal.

"If I sit at the end of your table and watch you while you're eating dinner, you're going to be under stress," said Ned Lynas, a zoologist who has studied whales in the area for more than 20 years. All the attention may be interrupting their meals. That was the finding of a two-year study by Robert Michaud, scientific director at the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals, a non-profit organization based in Tadoussac. He tracked the behaviour of 25 finbacks and found that when boats were nearby,the whales dove for food for shorter periods. "We know that the boats disturb the whales," said Pierre Bertrand, director of the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park.

Concerned by scientific studies like Michaud's, and reports of harassment of whales by aggressive boat captains, the park decided to act. After consulting with industry officials, scientists and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the park drew up regulations to cover whale-watching in its waters, which extend from north of La Malbaie to Les Escoumins, as well as into the Saguenay River. This is where most of the Tadoussac region's whales are. This year's whale watching ends around mid-October. Starting next season, any captain caught sailing to within 200 metres of a whale, or crossing a whale's path, will risk a fine of up to $10,000, and a further $100,000 for the company. In addition, the park will freeze the number of whale-watching boats at 55 and control them under a permit system. It's an extraordinary step, the first time in Canada that whale-watching will be governed by federal regulation. It also reflects how we've come full circle in our relations with these mysterious, intelligent creatures. **

After hunting some species to the brink of extinction, and capturing others for our amusement, we've now embraced the whale as a symbol of all that needs protecting on spaceship Earth. We've launched Save the Whales campaigns, and tried to free Willy (the real-life orca film star keeps returning to his pen) and swim with the dolphins (sometimes they bite). And to get close to more whales, we've fueled a whale-watching industry that today is worth an estimated $500 million a year worldwide, and growing fast. In the area around Tadoussac, where gift shops sell plush whale toys and whale T-shirts, as well as $45 tickets to the whale-watching cruises, the whale economy generates an estimated 1,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Two decades ago, just a few boats were taking out tourists. This year a dozen companies, operating 55 boats, expect to handle a total of 350,000 passengers - people who eat in the restaurants and stay in the hotels and B&Bs that have sprung up in recent years. It's the No. 1 whale-watching spot in Canada. "Tadoussac doesn't exist without whale-watching," said Edouard Hamel, vice-president of Groupe AML, which operates three larger whale-watching ships and 11 inflatables.

Because such a wide variety of species come to feed in an area that is so close to shore, this region is considered one of the best places in the world for whale-watching. Even at campgrounds on the rocky edges of the St. Lawrence, visitors report falling asleep to the sounds of spouting whales. Boat operators in recent years have had a voluntary code of ethics that, like the pending regulations, are meant to keep their vessels 200 metres from the whales. But the code is often ignored. On an outing last month on one company's Zodiac, our captain explained how competing boats co-operate by sharing whale-sightings on their radio frequencies. About 20 kilometres downriver from Tadoussac, we pulled into a circle with four other inflatables and a large whale-watching ship that had closed in on a finback. The whale surfaced, exhaled a gush of steam like an old locomotive, and we could watch its blowhole close shut as the whale curled into a dive. All the boats appeared to be less than 50 metres away. A day later, more evidence of aggressive whale-watching: in the distance, a whale spouted, then, farther out, a line of six inflatables suddenly sprang to life and gave chase. Not long afterward, a group of kayakers, six or seven in all, was seen paddling quickly to the side of a blue whale that was resting on the surface. The animal, roughly the size and three times the weight of a brontosaurus, could have capsized the uninvited guests with a flick of its tail. But it quickly dove for cover instead. Disturbed by such scenes, the Montreal Zoological Society two years ago halted its whale-watching trips and sent a letter of complaint to the marine park. George Midgley, a member of the group's executive, sent photographs that he said showed boats harassing whales. He never got a response. While the society's excursions were educational, Harris said she realized: "My God, we're contributing to the problem." It didn't matter that the group had been visiting Tadoussac since 1970, back in the days when they had to hire out fishing boats to see whales. It was just too crowded now.

To be sure, not all whale encounters constitute harassment. Whales have been known to circle whale-watching boats, blow their spray on passengers, slap their flippers on the water, and dive directly underneath as they inspect a vessel. Michaud himself is fond of talking about the "best buddies" - male belugas that spend a lot of time socializing together in the St. Lawrence, like in a boys' club - and one in particular named Galube. The scientist explained that unlike the bigger whales that come to feed in summer, the resident belugas "seem to have a lot of time to spare" for playing, exploring and just hanging out. "When belugas go under the boat, they flip over to look at you," he said. On one occasion, while he was looking down through a tube to observe the belugas under his small research craft, Galube came to a halt under the boat and looked right back at Michaud. The beluga wouldn't let others in his group approach the tube. "He was pushing away the others because he wanted it all to himself." Whales transmit a wide variety of sounds to find their way, to hunt, to court and to keep their pods together.

Orca families off the coast of British Columbia even "speak" in distinct dialects, scientists say. Larger whales can communicate over hundreds of kilometres using low-frequency signals. For these highly social creatures, communication is essential for survival. But with all the boat traffic in the St. Lawrence, it's uncertain whether they can hear each other well, said Peter Scheifel, a specialist in marine-mammal hearing. As he put it, "If we went to somebody's wedding and the band was playing loud, you wouldn't be able to carry on a conversation." Scheifel, director of bioacoustic research and education at the University of Connecticut's National Undersea Research Centre, said he was "absolutely astounded by the level of noise here as compared to elsewhere that I've studied." The noise isn't only from whale-watching boats. But Scheifel said noise levels rise sharply between11:30 and 2 p.m., when the greatest number of whale vessels are on the water. Whale experts aren't suggesting that whale-watching in this part of the St. Lawrence should end - just that it be controlled.

"We actually see whale-watching, properly regulated, as a great saviour," said Kara Brydson, U.K. marine campaigner for the ** International Fund for Animal Welfare. Her sentiment is echoed by scientists and others who believe that the public's fascination with whales will save them a fate far worse - a return to large-scale hunting. The next challenge is to make the local regulations work. The marine park has only five officers to enforce the law, but park officials have something else up their sleeves: a public-education campaign. By distributing pamphlets and posting signs informing tourists about the new regulations, and giving new training to boat captains, officials hope to get out the message: whales need their space. But is the public ready to save the whales again? Bertrand, the park director, thinks so. "They know they will see the whales in a protected area," he said. "They know it's a good thing." - Want to learn more about whales in the St. Lawrence? A good place to start is http://www.whalesonline.com- Michael Shenker's E-mail address is mshenker@thegazette.southam.ca.

racerocks.com home page
Sitemap Contact
webmaster:
Garry Fletcher
Copyright