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Belugas draw the world to Quebec's north shore

Von: abc (abc@123.cl) [Profil]
Datum: 14.09.2009 15:52
Message-ID: <20090914-135223.151.0@abc.shawnews.vc.shawcable.net>
Newsgroup: alt.animals.whales alt.animals.sealion alt.animals.dolphins alt.animals
Belugas draw the world to Quebec's north shore

14 Sep 09

With the total beluga population in the St. Lawrence Estuary stalled at
around 1,000, they show no sign of any increase in their numbers.

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With the total beluga population in the St. Lawrence Estuary stalled at
around 1,000, they show no sign of any increase in their numbers.
Photograph by: Andy Clark, Reuters

In the 1920s, the Canadian government declared war on the belugas of
the St. Lawrence Estuary and introduced a $15 bounty to anyone who
would bring in the flukes of the small white whale.

This was a bid by fishery officials to protect fish stocks by culling
the whales, which were wrongly blamed for plummeting catches by the
local commercial fishery.

The government went as far as to provide a First World War ace pilot
with funding and dynamite to fly over and drop homemade bombs on the
pods of belugas. During the Second World War, Canadian pilots sometimes
used belugas as target practice because they were so easy to spot.

By the 1950s, attitudes toward whales had begun to shift but the damage
was done. From a 19th-century population of some 10,000 belugas, barely
1,000 remain.

Now, less than 30 years after the whale hunt was banned, whale-watching
has become a multimillion-dollar key to the survival of numerous
communities along Quebec's North Shore.

In June, a study released by the International Fund for Animal Welfare
stated that close to 500,000 tourists went out in boats to watch whales
in Quebec in 2008, bringing with them between $80-million and $100-
million in economic spinoffs for the province. A large portion of these
tourist dollars was spent in the Manicouagan region along the North

Ironically, members of some of the same families that once hunted
whales are the very pioneers of this blossoming industry.

One such example is the Boulianne family of Les Bergeronnes, located
about 25 kilometres east of Tadoussac.

"My mother's family had a farm near Cap de Bon Desir, just east of
Bergeronnes, where we raised sheep, calves and chickens and grew grain
and vegetables. But we also fished for salmon and cod and hunted for
seal and belugas, anything that would help with our livelihoods.

"It was the way it was for the times we lived in," explained 64-year-
old Diane Gagnon, who with her husband, Richard, operates Auberge La
Rosepierre in Bergeronnes.

"Hunting belugas was part of normal family life here. Other families in
Bergeronnes and Escoumins also hunted beluga," Gagnon said. "Birds and
whales were hunted from the boat in the warmer seasons and seals on the
winter ice that formed along the shoreline. From the seals we would
sell the skins and eat the meat in a ragout or as a steak. Sometimes my
mother, Simone, would use the seal meat in a tourtiere."

It was a difficult life, and hunting on the ice or from a boat was a
perilous undertaking.

"I lost two uncles who went out to hunt for seals on the winter ice.
They went out for the day and were never seen again. I lost another
uncle when he returned from hunting beluga, when a friend he was with
dropped his rifle on the shore and it accidentally discharged, wounding
him. He died the next day from the wound."

When Diane was 15, she took a job at Camping Bon Desir, where her view
of whales from the shore led to her to lobby anyone who would listen
about protecting the whales and developing the area for tourism.

"This is where I fell in love with whales and realized that there was a
great potential for attracting tourists to view them, rather than
killing them," she explained. "Yes, I guess you could say I was a
pioneer, at least in promoting watching them from Bon Desir. In fact, I
received a prize for this pioneering work a few years ago from the
Association touristique regionale Manicouagan. People used to think my
idea was crazy, but who would say I am crazy now?"

Gagnon's 88-year-old mother, Simone Boulianne, clearly remembers the
days when making a living off the land and sea was necessary to keep
the family of 13 children fed and clothed.

"I would often see the belugas on our beach. It was not a major part of
our survival but just a part of it," she explained. "Sometimes the
whales were trapped in a weir and driven ashore to be killed. Minke
whales were also taken when the opportunity arose.

"My brothers would leave from Bon Desir, just below where our family
home was, and bring the whales back up on the beach to be cut up and
the blubber boiled down to oil. . . . On the beach we had the two large
stone furnaces and giant cauldrons set up in them."

She described how when a whale was captured and processed, the oil from
the blubber would be brought to the tanneries in La Malbaie to be used
for treating the leather hides processed there.

"The oil and tails were brought to La Malbaie, where we would receive a
$15 bounty that the government had for any beluga that was caught. It
was a lot of money back then. The whale's skin would be saved for
making shoes and boots, which I and the children wore. We also used the
whale oil to cook, and for frying doughnuts, and for coating the
horses' hooves to keep them in good shape from splitting and cracking.
It had many uses."

Sixty-eight-year-old Bergeronnes resident Levis Ross is another former
hunter and whale-watching pioneer. The former seal hunter and fisherman
led the first whale-watching tours in the region from his small wooden

"It was Diane who first started watching whales from land and me that
started it from boats."

Ross described the attitude toward whales at that time. "People were
harassing the belugas with harpoons and shooting at them with rifles,
taking pot shots at them, just for fun! It was a different attitude
back then, there was no concern for harming them and it didn't matter
what species of whale were shot or harpooned. A whale was a whale."

He explained how he first started bringing tourists out to see the

"It was from Bergeronnes in 1972 that I first started bringing out
tourists. Then in 1973 I moved the business to Tadoussac. At the start
I was charging $10 per person to go out in my boat to see the whales.
In my first year, I took out 280 paying customers, who mainly wanted to
see the blue whales. It was a nice chunk of money, but just to be
clear, I was doing this more because I loved the whales and loved
showing them off to the tourists. I was truly fascinated by the

By 1992 he had purchased a 65-footer that could take out 95 people at a

Not long after, he sold the boat to a new local whale-watching business
called Croisieres Essipit (now one of the larger whale-watch and
outfitting, tourism providers) and decided to buy two Zodiac-style
boats. At this point, he moved his business to Les Escoumins.

Ross, who is retired, says too many boats are now converging on the

"Whale-watch permits must be limited. We have been lucky there have
been no major accidents between boats getting too close and the

For this reason, a whale-watching code of ethics was introduced in
1990. The code was brought about with the co-operation of whale-watch
operators, tourism associations, aboriginal groups and the Quebec and
federal governments.

Veronique Poulin is marketing and communications co-ordinator for the
Association touristique regionale Manicouagan; she agrees that better
care must be taken to make sure that the whales  the goose that laid
the golden egg  are protected.

"Our tourist region is slowly developing, but we must make sure that we
don't do it so that we overdevelop while upsetting the reason the
tourists are coming here in the first place."

At the same time, she said the region is not getting its fair share of
government tourism funding.

"People in the tourism sector here are forced to finance their own
advertising for the region, and that's just not fair to them. It's like
an added tax," she said.

Thanks to the whales, tourism is growing in an area that once profited
from killing them. And still, the plight of the beluga remains front
and centre. With the total beluga population in the St. Lawrence
Estuary stalled at around 1,000, they show no sign of any increase in
their numbers.

They live in the area year-round, which in the past made them
particularly vulnerable to hunting and which now gives them no escape
from the poisons that drain in from the Great Lakes, the most
industrialized region of Canada and the United States. In fact, the
belugas have been classified as toxic waste, to be approached with
extreme care when their lifeless carcasses drift up onto shore, as they
seem to do with more frequency nowadays.

So while the whales' past enemies, the harpoons and the bombs, have
been replaced by tourists and cameras, the future of the species and
the thriving tourism in the area remain uncertain.

For more information online, visit www.whales-online.net or

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