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Our Original Minke Enthusiast

"Encountered resident of Sacré-Coeur (village near-by study site), with whom we discussed whales. Again he was one of those who showed surprise that the ‘marsouin blanche’ (local term for belugas) were whales."

Extract from Ned Lynas' first research journal, 1978

No more explanations are needed to describe the level of knowledge in the late Seventies, a time when big scale whaling still occurred worldwide.


Descriptive phase of research (1978 – 1983)

What do you do when you enter an area and all you know is that there are whales? Well, you start to observe and to record what you see. With time you start to read behaviours. You start to see patterns. You start to slowly gain an understanding leading to more questions. In short, at the beginning you simply watch whales.

Just what Ned did in 1978 as the following extract from his log shows:

August 23, 1978, after a long day of waiting

19.15 h

Tide falling still. No signs of belugas. It is calm, not cold but cool. Today’s weather pattern: cloud, rain, followed by cloud, clearing sun, followed by cloud and feeling of rain again.

19.30 h

Top of the tide (apparently). So all in all a fruitless day from whale watching point of view. Here we sit in sleeping bags, sipping coffee, talking, waiting, watching in the last of the daylight.

20.00 h

Tide has turned and is on the ebb. Sitting in the dusk watching tugs & freighters move up and downstream. Yet where are the beluga? Are we too early? Are we too late? Is the time right but the place different? Tomorrow perhaps?

Next day

6.00 h

Two high flying loons greet the morning.

7.00 h

Coffee at last. Still waiting for first signs of beluga.

9.35 h

'René has just taken of with one boat load when I sight 5 belugas in one group off the mid river point.'

Ned ends this strenuous waiting period with the remark:

'Nothing like the presence of whales to get the adrenaline running.'

During this phase Ned observed belugas giving birth in the Baie St. Maguerite, mapped the distribution of belugas, and started to copiously describe the swimming and feeding behaviours of blue, finback, humpback and minke whales. And finally, the first photograph of an identifiable minke whale later named Flat Top was taken that summer.

Quantitative phase of research (1984 – 1988)

Once you have quite a good understanding of what you see, you want to know how many whales are there. How often do they apply certain behaviours. When and where are they present or absent. In short you start to quantify your observations.

Following his hypothesis that the whales’ breathing intervals and dive times might reflect their underwater activities he started to record the ventilation times of surfacing baleen whales. In other words, every time a specific blue whale surfaced the time, to the exact second, was recorded. More than 10 years later, enough breathing samples of blue, finback, humpback, and minke whale ventilation cycles were collected to allow thorough analysis which eventually confirmed his hypothesis; whales show differences in breathing patterns reflecting their activity level at that time.

During this phase Ned additionally described and quantified the surface feeding techniques and swimming patterns (surface geometry) of all baleen whales.

Predictive phase of research (1989 – 1993)

Once you have described and quantified what’s going on you want to try to predict the whales’ behaviour in order to confirm the interpretations and knowledge gained through previous field observations.

For instance, Ned’s surface geometry study led to a better understanding of the whales’ swimming directions when surfacing after a long dive as they might turn right, left or stay straight. This knowledge was much needed as the presence of whale watching boats in close proximity of surfacing whales increased steadily possibly causing disturbance.

Throughout these years and still today, scientific research results and knowledge gained was shared with the Canadian Department for Fisheries and Oceans and since 1998 also with authorities from the Saguenay – St. Lawrence Marine Park.

Combining all three phases of research

When our knowledge on the whales studied increased, new aspects of their lives grew interesting leading to alternate our descriptive, quantifying and predictive research. In the mid-Nineties whale watching activities grew rapidly and the presence of boats in the area made behavioural studies on the blue, finback and humpback whales difficult. Their smallest reslative the most abundant and unknown minke whale, however, were ignored by whale watchers. Therefore ORES took on the challenge of studying the lives of these whales internationally believed to be almost impossible to study and identify in the field.

In the mid-Nineties ORES started the most extensive photo-identification program of minke whales worldwide and concentrated its behavioural research on their breathing and feeding ecology.