Call for Collaboration
The Mériscope invites NGOs, universities and government agencies to collaborate with us in order to conduct research projects in marine biology and environmental sciences.
We have guided and supervised field projects of undergraduate and postgrad students from Canadian, European and American universities. Several Bachelor and Master projects as well as three PhD projects have been conducted at our field base in eastern Canada since 2001. Over 400 people have participated in our course program.
We are operating under permits issued by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Parks Canada and our biopsy and tagging protocols are approved by the Canadian Council on Animal Care. We are a member of the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network, the Quebec Centre for Research in Ecotoxicology, and the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary (Québec). Furthermore, we are regularly involved in working groups of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Parks Canada.
Minke Whales in the Scope: Satellite Tracking, Biochemical Tracers and Population Genomics
Using next-generation tracking, biochemical tracers, and genomics to advance understanding of migration, feeding, and population structure of minke whales in the St. Lawrence (2021-2024); in collaboration with Dr. Melissa McKinney (McGill University), Dr. Denis Roy (McGill University), and Haley Land-Miller (PhD candidate, McGill University).
The goal of this project is to address gaps in knowledge in North Atlantic minke whale ecology; primarily, population structure, migration routes, and foraging ecology. Minke whales are among the most abundant cetaceans in the North Atlantic, and as generalist predators, can be valuable ecosystem sentinels. Through a collaboration between Mériscope and McGill University, boat-based fieldwork in the Saint Lawrence Estuary and the gulf will be carried out to collect tissue samples via dart biopsies and to deploy satellite tags onto minke whales. Using next-generation genomics techniques and additional samples from minke whales in the Northeast Atlantic, high-resolution population structure, connectivity, and local adaptation will be assessed.
Data from satellite tags will be used to identify hotspots, migration routes, and potential winter breeding grounds of minke whales, which are currently unknown, and movement patterns will be analyzed in connection to genetic markers. Chemical tracers, including stable isotopes of carbon, nitrogen and sulfur in skin and fatty acids in blubber, will also be analyzed from biopsies. Tracer analysis will be used as a proxy for diet and will indicate patterns in minke whale foraging, including in comparison to individuals from Greenland, Iceland, and Norway. Variation in dietary patterns across location and over the multi-year span of the project will be assessed and associations between diet, movement, and genetics will be evaluated. Overall, this project will greatly increase current understanding of North Atlantic minke whale ecology, and through the lens of St. Lawrence minke whales, the broader North Atlantic ecosystem.
Satellite tag deployment: A) Using an adjustable 13 mm bore CO2 injection rifle, B) specially designed airgun arrows, and low impact minimally percutaneous electronic transmitters with disinfected titanium anchors, C) satellite tags are deployed into the dorsal region of the whale, according to best practice guidelines for cetacean tagging (Andrews et al. 2019). A special trigger assembly with a 25 bar pressure manometer allows adjusting the pressure to the distance of the target animal, thus minimizing the impact. No transmitter will be deployed when the head or pectoral fins are exposed or at distances under 4 m or above 15 m. Deploying tags at shorter distances ensures that the tag gets anchored firmly in the blubber and sits tightly on the skin, thus reducing hydrodynamic pressure on the tag and potential tissue damage.
Remote biopsy sampling: several steps are involved in sampling a biopsy from a minke whale : A) Preparation of the crossbow with a sterilized dart, B) careful approach of the target animal and firing of the dart into the dorsal section of the whale, C) sterilization of the on-board lab equipment before extraction, D) careful extraction of the biopsy using a sterile pincette, E) conservation of the biopsy in a cryotube, and F) storage in a triple-layer cooler on board and subsequent transfer to a liquid nitrogen cryoshipper at the station.
Taking a biopsy from a minke whale is a real challenge: the time window is about two seconds, just after the last blow and before the dive, when the animal exposes the lower flank, at a distance of 8-25 meters and ideally at an angle of 90 degrees. Since we are using a crossbow and relatively bulky darts, we have to account for wind direction and speed when shooting. We normally take a biopsy after a detailed 30-minutes sample of the animal’s behavior, during which we measure dive duration, respiratory rate and velocity of the animal, to compare these to the same parameters during a post-biopsy behavioral sample. 80 % of the minke whales resume their normal behavior within less than 15 minutes after the biopsy.
Long-term monitoring of minke whales in the St. Lawrence Estuary
Photo identification, spatio-temporal distribution and behavioral ecology (since 2001); Read more …
Photo identification: some of the 330 individual minke whales in our catalogue – the identification of minke whales is based on the size and shape of the dorsal fin, the location and shape of marks along the edge of the dorsal fin (cutting edge, trailing edge, tip of the fin) as well as additional marks on the flanks or the head.
Passive acoustic monitoring of marine mammals in the St. Lawrence Estuary
Structural and functional properties of marine mammal vocalizations and effects of anthropogenic noise (since 2001).
- 2014-2021: Bioaccumulation and biological effects of PBDEs and emerging flame retardants in minke whales in the St. Lawrence Estuary (2018-2021); in collaboration with Dr. Jonathan Verreault (Université du Québec à Montréal, UQAM) and Dr. Magali Houde (Environment Canada). Read more …
- 2019: Movement patterns of the common minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) in a local foraging ground within the St. Lawrence Estuary. Saskia Hurst, University of Bremen, internship in the framework of a M.Sc. project.
- 2017: Biodiversity assessment in a tidal ecosystem of the St. Lawrence Estuary. Jeanine Brantschen, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, internship in the framework of a M.Sc. project.
- 2014-2020: Bioaccumulation and biological effects of PBDEs and priority emerging flame retardants in minke whales and belugas in the St. Lawrence Estuary. Antoine Simond, Ph.D. project, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM).
- 2016: Spatial distribution of Mysticetes and Odontocetes in the St. Lawrence Estuary with an emphasis on minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata): individual difference in habitat use and behavioral responses to biopsies. Diandra Düngen, Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, M.Sc. thesis.
- 2015: Education, research and the biopsy project. Gessica Gambaro, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, internship in the framework of a M.Sc. project.
- 2013: Spatio-temporal distribution and photo ID catalogue of minke whales in the St. Lawrence Estuary. Sandra Striegel, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, internship in the framework of a M.Sc. project.
- 2012: GIS study of beluga sightings and photo ID catalogue of belugas in the St. Lawrence Estuary. Anne Mancosu, Univ. of Zurich, Bachelor project.
- 2010-2012: 3MTSim: Marine Mammal and Maritime Traffic Simulator: A multi-agent model to assist the integrated management of human activities in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park and the proposed St. Lawrence Estuary Marine Protected Area in Quebec. In collaboration with Université de Montréal, École de Technologie Supérieure (Montreal), University of Calgary (Alberta), Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Parks Canada, and GREMM (Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals); NSERC, strategic project.
- 2010-2011: Passive acoustic monitoring of harbour porpoises in the St. Lawrence Estuary: effects of anthropogenic noise and environmental factors on the behaviour of Phocoena phocoena. Anne Herrmann, Univ. of Greifswald, Germany, in collaboration with the German Oceanographic Museum, Stralsund, Master thesis.
- 2005-2009: Rorqual whale (Balaenopteridae) lunge-feeding behaviors, processes and mechanisms. Brian W. Kot, Univ. of California, Los Angeles, PhD project.
- 2008: Data base development and GIS mapping of blue whale and finback whale sightings in the St. Lawrence Estuary. Stephanie Kalberer, Univ. of Zurich, Bachelor project.
- 2002-2007: Tracking blue whale vocalizations and anthropogenic noise in the St. Lawrence estuary. Lucia Di Iorio, Univ. of Zurich, Switzerland, & Cornell University, NY, PhD project.
- 2006: Analysis of invertebrate fauna in the intertidal zone of Portneuf-sur-Mer. Johan Decelle, Univ. Pierre-et-Marie-Curie, Paris, France, Bachelor project.
- 2003-2005: Rorqual whales surface-feeding strategies: Biomechanical aspects of feeding anatomy and exploitation of prey aggregations along tidal fronts. Brian W. Kot, Univ. of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Master thesis.
- 2004: GIS analysis of blue whale habitat in the St. Lawrence estuary. Dan Zeh, Univ. of Texas at Clear Lake, Bachelor project.
Financial support for our projects was provided by:
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada, National Contaminants Advisory Group (NCAG);
- Environment and Climate Change Canada, St. Lawrence Centre;
- Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM), Département des sciences biologiques;
- Tourisme Côte-Nord Manicouagan (ATRM), Canada;
- Marjolain Dufour, MP of the Province Quebec, Canada;
- University of Zurich, Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, Switzerland;
- Roche Research Foundation, Switzerland;
- Geomatik- und Umweltingenieurverein (GUV), ETH Zurich, Switzerland;
- Zürcher Tierschutz, Switzerland;
- Peter Jucker Photography, Switzerland;
- Vox TV, Germany;
- Univ. of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) und UCLA Marine Science Center;
- American Museum of Natural History;
- American Society of Mammalogists;
- International Union of Physiological Sciences, USA;
- Idea Wild, USA;
- Alcoa Foundation, USA;
- Private donors in Canada, Switzerland and USA.