A historic relocation: from the Nepisiguit River, New Brunswick, to the St. Lawrence Estuary, Québec

On June 15, a historic operation took place in New Brunswick and in Quebec to relocate a wayward beluga. The GREMM coordinated the response.

At daybreak, teams prepared themselves at each response site: the Nepisiguit River, the Bathurst Airport, the Rivière-du-Loup Airport, and the Port of Gros-Cacouna.

A team from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Marine Animal Response Society caught the young male around 12 p.m., Atlantic time. This was not an easy feat. Once the whale was caught, veterinarians from the Université de Montréal Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, the Vancouver Aquarium and the Shedd Aquarium tested his condition before he was transported. The veterinarians gave him a fair prognosis. He had drank a lot of fresh water and lost weight. He needed to be relocated for his survival in the very short term.

During transport by truck and plane, the beluga’s condition remained stable. The beluga arrived in Rivière-du-Loup at about 1:30 p.m. Quebec time. He was immediately transported to the port of Gros-Cacouna. After a satellite transmitter was inserted, blood was taken, and a biopsy was done, the animal was lowered by crane onto a submerged pontoon attached to the Bleuvet, the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals’ research vessel. When the animal hit the salt water, it began to breathe more easily, more calmly and at a more relaxed rate.

A Parks Canada team patrolled the sea during the day in search of beluga pods. The Bleuvet joined the Parks Canada vessel Alliance with a pod made up of young and female belugas two nautical miles from the port At 4:54 p.m., the beluga was released into the St. Lawrence Estuary. During the first breathing sequence, it swam slowly. The second breathing sequence was energetic; the whale was with some small grey belugas (juveniles). The team could hear the beluga’s calls through a hydrophone. It then lost visual contact with the animal, but its whereabouts were located with the aid of the satellite transmitter. Over the next few hours and days, the beluga will be track remotely. It is hoped that it will be integrated into a group of other belugas. The team returned to port encouraged, but aware that there were still a number of challenges facing the beluga.

Here is a drone footage of the release in the St. Lawrence. At first, the beluga swam quite slowly but get more vigorous after its first breath. You can see the tag on its right lap.

Summary of Events

  • June 2: the Marine Animal Response Society received notification of a beluga roaming the Nepisiguit River, near Bathurst, in New Brunswick.
  • June 7: The beluga is unable to get out of the river on its own. The displacement plan is prepared.
  • June 8: Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Marine Animal Response Society experts arrive on the scene to assess the various displacement options.
  • June 9: Unveiling of the beluga’s relocation plan to the Saint Lawrence. Six days are needed to get the equipment, human resources, optimal weather conditions and all the components required for the response.
  • June 15: Day of the response.
  • June 16: No new position from the tag was received at 3pm. We hope to get one by the end of the day.

We sincerely thank all those who participated in the response:

Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals, Marine Animal Response Society, Maritime Marine Animal Response Network, Réseau québécois d’urgences pour les mammifères marins [Quebec Marine Mammals Emergency Response Network], Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Science Team, Conservation and Protection Team, and the Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Gulf Region/Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Quebec Region Management Team, Parks Canada, Transport Canada, Centre de remorquage 2000, the Université de Montréal Faculté de médecine vétérinaire, Vancouver Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium, Whale Stewardship Project, the Port of Gros-Cacouna, Arrimage Québec, the Rivière-du-Loup Airport, Bathurst Regional Airport, the Bathurst and Rivière-du-Loup police services and all on-site volunteers at different locations.

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