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Saguenay–St.Lawrence Marine Park

Upper Layer

Illustration of the upper layer of the water column. In the background to the left, a rocky hill and to the right, a blue sky, a cloud and a herring gull in flight. In the foreground on the water surface, the back of a blue whale, two common eiders and a harbour seal. Underwater, one adult beluga (white), one young beluga (gray) and an illustration of phytoplankton. Herring Gull Common Eider Harbour Seal Phytoplankton Beluga Blue Whale

Common Eider

Common Eider

Kingdom: Animal
Division: Vertebrate
Classification: Bird
Types of bird species in the marine park: over one hundred!

Description:  Typical Northern sea duck. Males have white and black feathers and females have brown plumage covered with dark stripes.  The common eider measures from 50 to 70 centimetres long and is the largest duck in the Northern Hemisphere.

Habitat:  As early as the end of March, numerous colonies nest all along the estuary's coastlines and on its main islands.

Population: Around 32 000 couples in the St. Lawrence Estuary (in 2001). Population increasing by 20 %.

Reproduction:   A female lays between 3 and 5 eggs that are brooded for 26 days in a nest lined with its own feathers. Ducklings from different broods congregate in small groups that are watched over by two or three females.

Life expectancy: Approximately 15 years.

Feeding habits: Ducklings feed on small marine organisms. Adults eat invertebrates (mussels, sea urchins, and starfish) and crustaceans (crabs).

Movement: Leaves the St. Lawrence Estuary in the fall to migrate to the Maine and Massachusetts coastlines for the winter.

Did you know? The common eider's highly insulating feathers are used in the fabrication of products such as Eiderdowns (comforters), a name which originates from eider”.

REMEMBER: The presence of humans on nesting sites disturbs brooding females and scares them away. When this happens, ducklings become easy targets for surrounding predators.



Herring Gull

Herring Gull

Kingdom: Animal
Division: Vertebrate
Classification: Bird

Description:  The head, tail and body are white, and the back and wings are grey. The wing tips are black, and the bill is yellow. Chicks are brown during the first 4 years.

Length: approximately 60 centimetres long.

Habitat: Those present in the St. Lawrence Estuary form large nesting colonies on river banks and islands in March. During the winter, they are most likely to congregate on the shorelines of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Population: The most widespread of the 18 gull species present in Quebec. The population is on the rise in Eastern and Northern Quebec.

  From April to May. The female lays 2 to 3 eggs that are brooded by both parents for about 27 days. The herring gull uses its bill to turn its eggs over to ensure proper development of embryos.

Life expectancy: 20 years.

Feeding habits: Small fish (sand lance, capelin, herring), mollusks, crustaceans, eggs, fledglings (eider) and carrion.

Movement: One species of the estuary’s herring gull migrates to the Southern United States and as far as Mexico.

Did you know? The most popular species found in cities is the ring-billed gull. It is smaller than the herring gull and has a distinctive black ring around its bill. 

REMEMBER: The herring gull is well-known for its ability to adapt to its surroundings. Hence, the population is so numerous today that it has become a real nuisance, especially in large cities.



Harbour Seal

Harbour Seal

Kingdom: Animal
Division: Vertebrate
Classification: Mammal
Types of seal species in the marine park: harbour, grey and harp seals

Description:   Hide colour is dark grey and freckled with light spots (adults and pups). It has a round head, a snub nose and v-shaped nostrils. Its whiskers (long moustaches) are used to identify its prey.

Length: 1.5 metres. Weight: 100 kilos.

Habitat: Lives year-round in the estuary, near the coastlines or on islands. Congregates on shore in small sites called  haulouts.Dives for 3 minutes in shallow waters.Very good hearing in and out of the water.

Population: 2 600 in the estuary.

Reproduction: The gestation period lasts 11 months. The newborn is called a pup. It swims right from birth and is nurtured by the mother's milk for less than a month.

Life expectancy: 20 to 30 years.

Feeding habits: Small fish such as capelin, herring and smelts, or crustaceans.

Did you know? In haulout sites, seals love to curl up into a shape that looks somewhat like a banana; the head upright, lower limbs pointing up and placed together.

REMEMBER: The presence of humans in haulouts disturbs seals, especially during whelping and milk feeding - two activities that are essential to their survival.





Kingdom: Animal
Division: Vertebrate
Classification: Mammal Order: Cetacean (whale)
Sub-order: Odontoceti (toothed like the porpoise, sperm whale and orca (killer whale)

Description: Small-sized whale measuring 3 to 5 metres long. Weight: up to 1.5 tonnes.Flippers are different from most cetaceans.Rounded flippers and no dorsal fin.Protuberance on the head called a "melon".

Habitat:  The only cetacean living year-round in the St. Lawrence. It prefers the deep waters of rivers and estuaries.

Population: 1 000 in the St. Lawrence. Endangered species.

Gestation lasts between 12 to 15 months. Newborns are brown and turn grey-blue at around 2 years old, at which age they are called "juveniles". Belugas become white when they reach adulthood, usually around 8 years old.

Life expectancy: Average life expectancy of 30 years but may live up to 60 years.

Feeding habits: Small fish, such as: capelin, sand lance, herring, crustaceans and other types of sea floor animals. It hunts the entire water column for food.

Did you know? The beluga gets its name from the Russian word "belukha", which means "white".

REMEMBER: Pollution-based contaminants are proving to be a significant danger to its health and making it more vulnerable to illnesses.



Blue Whale

Blue Whale

Kingdom: Animal
Division: Vertebrate
Classification: Mammal
Order: Cetacean (whale)
Sub-order: Mysticetis (with baleens like the humpback whale)
Types of whale species in the marine park: 13

Description:   Greyish whale with a long, broad head. Small dorsal fin and pointed flippers.Hump located near the blowhole (used to breathe). Weighs 80 to 120 tonnes. Measures up to 30 metres.

Habitat: Roams the world's oceans. The North Atlantic blue whale lives in the waters of Eastern Canada. Some are found in the St. Lawrence.

Population:  The number of blue whales in the Atlantic remains unknown. Approximately 100 can be seen in the St. Lawrence each year. Due to 40 years of intensive hunting, the blue whale is now an endangered species. It has been protected worldwide by international law since 1966.

Reproduction: Sexual maturity is reached at 10 years old. Gestation lasts between 10 and 11 months. Gives birth to one calf every 2 to 3 years, which is fed by its mother for 7 months.

Life expectancy: 70 to 80 years.

Feeding habits: Mainly krill that it filters with its baleen. It can swallow 4 tonnes per day. Remains submerged for 15 to 30 minutes.

Movement: Migrates to the south during winter. Usually alone but can do so in pairs or small pods. 

Communication: Makes low frequency sounds that can be heard hundreds of kilometres away. They use these sounds to communicate. 

Did you know? The blue whale is the largest animal to have ever existed on Earth. It is even bigger than a dinosaur!

REMEMBER: Observation activities in the marine park can disturb these gigantic mammals.





Kingdom: Plant

Description:  Microscopic algae that wander or drift in water. Composed of one or many cells depending on their type. Virtually endless shapes.

Habitat: Fresh or salt water. Very abundant in the upper layer of the water column because it uses sunlight to grow.

Population: 90 % of all plant matter in oceans.

Reproduction:  Mainly produced in spring and summer thanks to a greater abundance of sunlight and warmer waters.

Feeding habits: Feeds off light energy from the sun and drifting nutrients in water.

Movement: Large quantities are often moved by currents.

Did you know? Plankton makes up an enormous mass of microscopic organisms found suspended in water. In addition to phytoplankton (plants), it is composed of zooplankton (animals).

REMEMBER: Climate changes can alter the environment, water cleanliness or habitat, which in turn affects the abundance of phytoplankton.