'It's not supposed to be here': Wayward minke whale spotted near Montreal sparks worries

A marine mammal research group is keeping a close eye on a wayward minke whale that made its way to the Montreal area over the weekend, raising concerns about its safety.

The whale was first spotted on Sunday afternoon between Île Sainte-Hélène and Île Notre-Dame. 

Alain Belso was at Parc Jean-Drapeau for a walk with his girlfriend when he noticed a fin sticking out of the water. The nature photographer had his camera with him, naturally, so he snapped a few photos, first thinking it might be a dolphin.

"It only came out of the water for a few seconds… it was just long enough for me to see something that looks way bigger than a dolphin," he told CTV News.

He stuck around for about a half-hour, photographing the whale. It wasn't until he got home and did some research that he realized what he saw was a minke whale.

"It's pretty amazing," he said.

But as much as he's excited about the whale-watching experience, he's also a little concerned.

"A boat came by and that's when I started actually getting worried for the thing," he said.

"After thinking about it, I actually feel bad for the whale because I'm enjoying taking a picture of it, but with the outcome of the last whale it kind of sucks because it might not last. It's not supposed to be here."

The sighting comes nearly two years after a humpback whale spent several days in Montreal's Old Port, to the delight of onlookers. However, it was found dead in June 2020 after it was believed to have been hit by a boat.

Belso contacted the Groupe de recherche et d’éducation sur les mammifères marins (GREMM) Sunday night to let them know the wayward whale was spotted in Montreal.

"It's not a good place for a minke," said Robert Michaud, president of GREMM, in an interview.

He said in the last 20 years, the group has received at least 12 reports of minke whales upstream from Quebec City, most of which died. GREMM volunteers noted that this particular whale seems to be in good health and there is no immediate danger

However, "fresh water is a hostile environment for minke. These animals usually swim in cold and saltwater. They don’t deal with pathogens or the algaes that we find in a river like the St. Lawrence," Michaud said.

"Our experience with the humpback whale, after about 10 days in the water around Montreal two years ago, is it eventually got covered in algae and this might have contributed to the death of the animal."

Michaud said it's hard to pinpoint an exact reason the minke made its way here. All species like to explore and sometimes -- just like humans exploring a forest -- they get lost, especially in the case of younger mammals.

GREMM is urging people not to go on the water to observe the whale and has advised shipping operators to be vigilant. Volunteers plan to document the whale's physical condition, but beyond that they say they can't do much else. It's up the mammal to turn back home on its own. 

"The less stress this animal will encounter, the better are its chances to just turn around and go back home," Michaud said.

-- With files from CTV News Montreal's Ian Wood

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