Our Main Study Objectives
In general our research focus is on the long-term documentation and study of the abundance, distribution and ecology of minke whales summering in the St. Lawrence Estuary. Other studies might be added at any time.
1. Marine Mammal Distribution
We attempt to understand distribution patterns, habitat sharing and partitioning of marine mammals within the study area and to monitor long-term patterns and any changes thereof.
2. Spatial and Temporal Distribution of Minke Whales
We study the long-term spatial and temporal distribution and its variability as well as their relations to oceanographic parameters including bathymetry, sea surface temperature (SST) and prey abundance by applying GIS analysis and to monitor developments and changes over time in order to design and possibly adjust Marine Protected Areas (MPA) and conservation and management measures.
3. Population Dynamics and Social Structure
We try to estimate the population size and composition of minke whales and to study short- and long-term variability thereof. We investigate sex and age composition as well as the social and genetic structure of the population. Sighting data are also taken on other marine mammals.
4. Habitat Preferences and Site Fidelity
We try to understand and monitor habitat use, home range, habitat preferences, site fidelity and residence time of the minke whale population and individuals. We identify natural variability and variability possibly caused by anthropogenic impacts such as climate change.
5. Breathing Ecology
We collect data on respiration times in order to measure and define respiration patterns of minke whales to study variability of a) different activity levels, b) behaviours within seasons and over years, c) populations and individuals in different habitats and ecosystems, d) responses to environmental factors such as tidal phases, e) in respect to human activities, and f) in comparison with other habitats worldwide.
Excepting photo-identification, collecting blow data is the most important method applied for our ongoing studies. In addition, analyzing breathing and feeding strike rates to understand optimization and learning processes and study swimming patterns at the surface when taking up oxygen, corralling the prey, traveling, or resting.
6. Feeding Ecology
We conduct long-term studies on surface feeding behaviours of minke whales in general and focal animals in particular, to further understand these in relation to the environment, prey composition and abundance and to monitor long-term patterns and any changes thereof. We describe and define the various feeding manoeuvres in order to explain their function and to monitor their variability within the population and over time.
We Use photo ID to obtain data on life history, breathing and feeding ecology, social, age and gender composition, population structure, habitat use, site fidelity, anthropogenic impacts, and status and welfare based on the recognition of individual minke whales. We maintain and publish an identification catalogue of minke whales of the St. Lawrence Estuary.
We study the physical and oceanographic conditions of the environment which affect the spatial and temporal distribution and the behaviour of whales. We investigate and document the relationship between the environment and whales.
9. Anthropogenic Impacts on the Welfare of Minke Whales
We contribute to the understanding of anthropogenic impacts on minke whales by studying their behaviors when responding to human activities, and investigating the degree of human-caused avoidance, and monitoring developments in respect to climate change. We document and monitor visible impacts of anthropogenic causes and analyse visible wounds and scars occurring, possibly related to entanglements and/or boat collisions.