St. John's, Canada
St. John's, Canada

Time filter

Source Type

Ramp C.,Mingan Island Cetacean Study | Ramp C.,University of St. Andrews | Delarue J.,Mingan Island Cetacean Study | Palsboll P.J.,University of Groningen | And 2 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2015

Global warming poses particular challenges to migratory species, which face changes to the multiple environments occupied during migration. For many species, the timing of migration between summer and winter grounds and also within-season movements are crucial to maximise exploitation of temporarily abundant prey resources in feeding areas, themselves adapting to the warming planet. We investigated the temporal variation in the occurrence of fin (Balaenoptera physalus ) and humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in a North Atlantic summer feeding ground, the Gulf of St. Lawrence (Canada), from 1984 to 2010 using a long-term study of individually identifiable animals. These two sympatric species both shifted their date of arrival at a previously undocumented rate of more than 1day per year earlier over the study period thus maintaining the approximate 2-week difference in arrival of the two species and enabling the maintenance of temporal niche separation. However, the departure date of both species also shifted earlier but at different rates resulting in increasing temporal overlap over the study period indicating that this separation may be starting to erode. Our analysis revealed that the trend in arrival was strongly related to earlier ice break-up and rising sea surface temperature, likely triggering earlier primary production. The observed changes in phenology in response to ocean warming are a remarkable example of phenotypic plasticity and may partly explain how baleen whales were able to survive a number of changes in climate over the last several million years. However, it is questionable whether the observed rate of change in timing can be maintained. Substantial modification to the distribution or annual life cycle of these species might be required to keep up with the ongoing warming of the oceans. © 2015 Ramp et al.


Ramp C.,Mingan Island Cetacean Study | Ramp C.,University of St. Andrews | Delarue J.,Mingan Island Cetacean Study | Berube M.,University of Groningen | And 2 more authors.
Endangered Species Research | Year: 2014

The fin whale Balaenoptera physalus, the second largest species in the animal kingdom to have lived on Earth, was heavily targeted during the industrial whaling era. North Atlantic whaling for this species ended in 1987 and it is unclear if the populations are recovering. The stock structure in the North Atlantic is still under debate, but several lines of evidence suggest that fin whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence may form a discrete stock with limited exchange with the rest of the North Atlantic. We applied mark-recapture models to 21 yr of photo-identification data from the Jacques-Cartier Passage to estimate the abundance and, for the first time, a survival rate based on live re-sightings for this stock of fin whales. Using the Cormack-Jolly-Seber model, we estimated a unisex non-calf apparent survival rate of 0.955 (95% CI: 0.936 to 0.969) for the period 1990 to 2010, declining in the last 4 yr of the study. The reduced survivorship was likely caused by a lower site fidelity combined with a higher mortality. The POPAN model yielded a super-population estimate of 328 individuals (95% CI: 306 to 350) for the period 2004 to 2010, and confirmed the negative trend in apparent survival and annual abundance, indicating that the population has not increased since the last large-scale surveys from 1974 and 1997.


Gavrilchuk K.,Laval University | Lesage V.,Maurice Lamontagne Institute | Lesage V.,Laval University | Ramp C.,Mingan Island Cetacean Study | And 4 more authors.
Marine Ecology Progress Series | Year: 2014

Ecologically similar species may coexist when resource partitioning over time and space reduces interspecific competition. Understanding resource use within these species assemblages may help predict how species relative abundance might influence ecosystem functioning. In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada, 4 species of rorqual whales (blue Balaenoptera musculus, fin B. physalus, minke B. acutorostrata and humpback Megaptera novaeangliae) coexist during the summer feeding period. They can be observed within hundreds of meters of one another, suggesting an overlap in ecological niches; yet fine-scale habitat use analyses suggest some resource partitioning. While major ecological changes have been observed in marine ecosystems, including the Gulf of St. Lawrence, we have little understanding of how the removal of predatory fish might cascade through ecosystems. Here, we take advantage of a 19 yr tissue collection subsequent to a fishery collapse (which occurred in 1992) to investigate trophic niche partitioning within a guild of rorqual whales following the loss of a key ecosystem component, groundfish. We analyzed stable isotope ratios for 626 rorqual individuals sampled between 1992 and 2010. Using Bayesian isotopic mixing models, we demonstrated that the 4 rorqual species segregated trophically by consuming different proportions of shared prey. An overall increase in δ15N values over the study period (post groundfish collapse), particularly for fin and humpback whales, suggested a progressive use of higher-trophic level prey, such as small pelagic fish, whereas the stability of blue whale diet over time confirmed their specialized feeding behaviour. This study provides the first longterm assessment of trophic ecology among rorqual populations on this Northwest Atlantic feeding ground, and evidence for differential resource use among large marine predators following ecosystem change. © 2014 Inter-Research.


PubMed | University of Groningen, Mingan Island Cetacean Study and University of St. Andrews
Type: Journal Article | Journal: PloS one | Year: 2015

Global warming poses particular challenges to migratory species, which face changes to the multiple environments occupied during migration. For many species, the timing of migration between summer and winter grounds and also within-season movements are crucial to maximise exploitation of temporarily abundant prey resources in feeding areas, themselves adapting to the warming planet. We investigated the temporal variation in the occurrence of fin (Balaenoptera physalus) and humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in a North Atlantic summer feeding ground, the Gulf of St. Lawrence (Canada), from 1984 to 2010 using a long-term study of individually identifiable animals. These two sympatric species both shifted their date of arrival at a previously undocumented rate of more than 1 day per year earlier over the study period thus maintaining the approximate 2-week difference in arrival of the two species and enabling the maintenance of temporal niche separation. However, the departure date of both species also shifted earlier but at different rates resulting in increasing temporal overlap over the study period indicating that this separation may be starting to erode. Our analysis revealed that the trend in arrival was strongly related to earlier ice break-up and rising sea surface temperature, likely triggering earlier primary production. The observed changes in phenology in response to ocean warming are a remarkable example of phenotypic plasticity and may partly explain how baleen whales were able to survive a number of changes in climate over the last several million years. However, it is questionable whether the observed rate of change in timing can be maintained. Substantial modification to the distribution or annual life cycle of these species might be required to keep up with the ongoing warming of the oceans.


Ramp C.,Mingan Island Cetacean Study | Ramp C.,University of Bremen | Berube M.,University of Stockholm | Palsboll P.,University of Stockholm | And 2 more authors.
Marine Ecology Progress Series | Year: 2010

Sex-biased adult mortality is commonly observed in the animal kingdom. In mammals, a predominantly male-biased mortality is found in species with a polygynous mating system, while in monogamous taxa, female-biased mortality prevails. In the largest of all mammals, the Mysticeti, no sex-specific mortality has been found so far apart from that found in biased whaling data. We estimated sex-specific survival rates using an Akaike Information Criterion (AICc)-based model selection of 18 yr of mark-recapture data from a North Atlantic humpback whale feeding aggregation, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada. We found a significantly higher survival rate for females (0.992; 95% CI 0.985-0.999) than for males (0.971; 0.943-0.985). Humpback whales are a typical polygynous species, with males competing intensively for mates while females bear the costs of pregnancy and lactation. However, the existing data did not allow us to test if differential costs of reproduction are causing the skew in mortality. We could not preclude stock-specific differences, such as contamination levels, migratory distances, and reproductive parameters (e.g. calving intervals, age at sexual maturity), and further data are needed to investigate the underlying reasons. © Inter-Research 2010.


Ramp C.,Mingan Island Cetacean Study | Ramp C.,University of Bremen | Hagen W.,University of Bremen | Palsboll P.,University of Stockholm | And 2 more authors.
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology | Year: 2010

Analyses of social structures in baleen whales are rare, and so far, they are thought to consist of mostly short and unstable associations. We investigated the association patterns of individual humpback whales from a summer feeding aggregation in the Gulf of St. Lawrence from 1997 to 2005. Photo-identified animals were sexed using genetic methods and were grouped into five categories: juvenile males/females, mature males and lactating/non-lactating females. We calculated half-weight association indices within and between the groups and found that 45% of the observation showed single animals and another 45% small groups (two to three) consisting mainly of mature animals besides lactating females. Using permutation tests, we found evidence for long-term associations between mature males and non-lactating females as well as among non-lactating females. Standardised lagged association rates revealed that these male-female groups disassociated quickly over about 2 weeks, whereas associations increased again towards the beginning of the breeding season. Non-lactating females of similar age engaged in multi-seasonal stable pairs for up to six consecutive feeding seasons; no mature male-female association was observed in consecutive years. The females with the most stable and long-term associations also had the highest reproductive output. While the risk of predation could not explain these long-term bonds, feeding cooperation seemed the most plausible explanation for group forming behaviour during the summer months. © 2010 Springer-Verlag.


PubMed | University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, University of Washington, Mingan Island Cetacean Study, Cornell University and 8 more.
Type: Journal Article | Journal: Movement ecology | Year: 2015

Little is known about migration patterns and seasonal distribution away from coastal summer feeding habitats of many pelagic baleen whales. Recently, large-scale passive acoustic monitoring networks have become available to explore migration patterns and identify critical habitats of these species. North Atlantic minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) perform seasonal migrations between high latitude summer feeding and low latitude winter breeding grounds. While the distribution and abundance of the species has been studied across their summer range, data on migration and winter habitat are virtually missing. Acoustic recordings, from 16 different sites from across the North Atlantic, were analyzed to examine the seasonal and geographic variation in minke whale pulse train occurrence, infer information about migration routes and timing, and to identify possible winter habitats.Acoustic detections show that minke whales leave their winter grounds south of 30 N from March through early April. On their southward migration in autumn, minke whales leave waters north of 40 N from mid-October through early November. In the western North Atlantic spring migrants appear to track the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream along the continental shelf, while whales travel farther offshore in autumn. Abundant detections were found off the southeastern US and the Caribbean during winter. Minke whale pulse trains showed evidence of geographic variation, with longer pulse trains recorded south of 40 N. Very few pulse trains were recorded during summer in any of the datasets.This study highlights the feasibility of using acoustic monitoring networks to explore migration patterns of pelagic marine mammals. Results confirm the presence of minke whales off the southeastern US and the Caribbean during winter months. The absence of pulse train detections during summer suggests either that minke whales switch their vocal behaviour at this time of year, are absent from available recording sites or that variation in signal structure influenced automated detection. Alternatively, if pulse trains are produced in a reproductive context by males, these data may indicate their absence from the selected recording sites. Evidence of geographic variation in pulse train duration suggests different behavioural functions or use of these calls at different latitudes.


News Article | September 1, 2016
Site: motherboard.vice.com

Biologist Kate Gavrilchuck advanced to the bow of the zodiac and loaded her crossbow as the boat navigated the rough waters of the Saint Lawrence River, which feeds into the Atlantic Ocean on Canada’s East Coast. “Be careful! One whale is right near the boat,” Gavrilchuck shouted to her crewmates, who were struggling to keep the vessel steady in the meter-and-a-half swells. “Veer to the right!” Suddenly the loud exhale of two humpback whales, which can weigh almost 80,000 pounds each, sounded out as they broke water alongside us, the spray from their spouts quickly blown away by the 40 km/h wind gusts. Gavrilchuck recognized one of them, which she called “Tracks,” by sight. Read More: We Watched Gigantic Blue Whale Bones Get 'Degreased' “Tracks is the whale on the left,” she yelled. As the boat veered to portside, she brought the crossbow to her eye and took aim, pointing it right at Tracks. The whale was due to be biopsied. Field biologist Kate Gavrilchuck uses a crossbow to obtain a biopsy sample from a female humpback known to scientists as Tracks. Image: Justin Taus The non-profit Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS), which keeps a research station in Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan, Quebec, on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, is interested in whales—blue whales, especially, but other species, too. This summer out on the storied Canadian river, which links the Great Lakes to the Atlantic, has provided them with more questions than answers, and some new mysteries to solve. They’re seeing fewer baby humpbacks and fin whales in the area, for one thing. Yet sightings of endangered North Atlantic right whales are suddenly, and inexplicably, on the rise. Founded in 1979 by Paris-born biologist Richard Sears, the MICS is recognized as the first organization to undertake long-term studies of the blue whale, the largest animal on Earth. A major player in a collaborative project that succeeded in satellite tagging and recording the full winter migration of a blue whale in the North Atlantic for the first time, in 2014, the group’s findings have been instrumental in understanding the movements and distribution of this enigmatic and still under-studied species, which is now designated as “endangered.” One of the MICS’ main research tools is the biopsy performed by launching a modified arrow from a crossbow to collect a small tissue sample as the animal surfaces to breathe. After removing a small plug of its skin and blubber, the arrow bounces off the whale and floats in the water, where it can be retrieved. (This technique is approved by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.) From that little piece of flesh, scientists can glean all kinds of information, including the animal’s sex, what sorts of prey it consumes, and which contaminants are in its body—which in turn describe pollutants present in the animal’s habitat. Biological sampling can complement other research methods to help scientists understand the social structure, reproduction and even the genealogy of each species. As we bounced across the rough waters off Anticosti Island, a buzzing sound rang through the air. It was Gavrilchuck’s arrow flying towards Tracks, the humpback whale, connecting on the first attempt. The arrow bounced off Tracks’ side and floated in the water as the whale submerged. After plucking the arrow from the waves, Gavrilchuck carefully withdrew a two-centimetre long, black-and-beige piece of skin and blubber and placed it in a vial inside a red thermos, where it would stay chilled. The sample would be processed and stored in the MICS laboratory, then sent away for genetic and hormonal analysis. Over the past few seasons, information from biopsy samples, combined with photo identification of individual humpback and fin whales, has allowed the MICS scientists to notice a troubling trend. Since 2011, they haven’t observed many sexually mature females in the company of calves. This year, only four humpback mother-calf duos have been seen in the estuary by the MICS, they told me, although approximately 30 mature females have been identified—a reproduction rate of close to 10 per cent, explained research coordinator Christian Ramp. While it's hard to give a firm number of how many calves were seen prior to 2011 (the numbers can fluctuate), in a good year, the team might observe 12 to 18 different calves, he said. That's a worrying drop. These scientists haven’t observed one single fin whale calf in the estuary this year either, although approximately 30 mature females have been sighted, he added. Tracks is one of the many female humpbacks to have been observed without a calf this year, and the team hopes to find out why. Robert Michaud, president and director at the non-profit Groupe de recherche et d’éducation sur le mammifères marins, a marine mammal research group that also operates in the Saint Lawrence, says that he suspects his organization is witnessing the same trend in other parts of the estuary. Causes of a seemingly low reproduction rate will be hard to confirm, he added. And they might also be different for both species. That same day, out on the Saint Lawrence and far off on the pale-blue horizon, the MICS team spotted the V-shaped spout that is characteristic of the rare North Atlantic right whale. They raced against the swells to reach it, preparing their cameras as the boat rushed over the waves. The team’s most utilized research method is photo identification. The station, which is the official curator of the North Atlantic blue whale catalogues, is home to thousands of whale pictures, some of them in black-and-white. Researchers sort through newly captured photographs to make matches with older ones by comparing the whale's’ skin pigmentation patterns, scars, and other unique characteristics, like fluke and fin shapes. A match can reveal important details about migration and lifespan—like when a specific blue whale was photographed near Pico Island in the Portuguese Azores in 2014, and matched with a photograph snapped across the Atlantic near the Mingan Archipelago, on the east coast of Canada, some 30 years earlier. Team member Viri Jimenez looks through old photographs of blue whales at the MICS research station in Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan, Quebec. Image: Justin Taus That day on the Saint Lawrence, the zodiac reached the right whale just in time to photograph it graciously lifting its large black fluke high out of the water, then diving deep. These pictures would be sent to the New England Aquarium in Boston, Mass., where the North Atlantic right whale catalogue is based.There, scientists might be able to identify the individual animal by matching it against other known whales in the collection. Decimated by whaling, the current North Atlantic right whale population (which was estimated at 465 animals, as of 2011) is protected in both Canada and the US. The MICS team had spotted only four since early 2014, and none at all for a few years prior, said Ramp. So it’s surprising that, this year alone, the MICS has seen 20 North Atlantic right whales. Total reported sightings in the Saint Lawrence are close to 50, he continued. Nobody knows why, exactly, there are suddenly so many whales here this year. “These whales spend much of their lives aggregating in areas of high plankton concentration,” explained Charles Mayo, senior scientist and director of the right whale ecology program at the non-profit Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass. “I imagine that if we could get the best profiles of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence right now, we’d find that there is an unusual concentration of their primary food, which is copepods,” a type of small crustacean, he added. Mayo stressed that it is possible for whales to roam over very large areas, sometimes hundreds of miles, in search of food. The whales currently in the Saint Lawrence are likely the same ones previously identified in areas like the Bay of Fundy or the Gulf of Maine, he added. Shifts in oceanic currents and other environmental variations influenced by climate change could potentially be contributing to their sudden increased presence, Ramp added. More whale sightings in the Saint Lawrence sounds like a good thing, but it could mean trouble for them. Many sightings are occurring in maritime shipping lanes. Measures have been enacted to reduce ship strikes with right whales in other Canadian habitats, including New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, said Moira Brown, a senior Right whale scientist at the New England Aquarium. “More research is needed to better define where right whales aggregate in the Gulf, to identify potential critical habitat and to find out which ships are using the area,” said Brown. Several groups, including the MICS, relay their information about sightings to the shipping industry, she said. A MICS zodiac searches the waters for signs of whales near Anticosti Island, Quebec. Image: Justin Taus As the winds increased, blowing blustery waves over the Saint Lawrence, the MICS team decided to call it a day. They photographed one more whale, a finback, on the wavy ride back to port. “Because whales are long-lived animals, long-term studies like ours are necessary,” said Sears, who is planning another expedition to tag blue whales off the coast of Gaspé in September. This type of study could eventually help explain why humpback and fin whale calf sightings are much less common in the Gulf since 2011—while endangered right whale sightings seem to be more common. In the process, scientists might make some new discoveries about the effects of climate change and other pressures, anthropogenic and otherwise, that are affecting these animals. Even after almost 40 years of research with the MICS, Sears said, “there is still a long way to go.” Image Above: A North Atlantic right whale surfaces in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence on August 14, 2016. This whale is one of 20 North Atlantic right whales seen in the Saint Lawrence by the MICS this year. Image: Mingan Island Cetacean Study

Loading Mingan Island Cetacean Study collaborators
Loading Mingan Island Cetacean Study collaborators