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Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve of Canada

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More on... the Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica)
Characteristics
A group of Atlantic puffins standing on a rocky cliff
Atlantic Puffins
© Parks Canada / É. Le Bel / L 31 06 185, 1994

The Atlantic Puffin is a member of the Alcidae, or penguin, family. It weighs about 400 g and its total overall height is anywhere between 29 and 34 cm. Its short wings and sturdy webbed feet facilitate underwater swimming when it is seeking food. On land, its movements are clumsy and it is usually to be found close to steep cliffs.

Nesting

The main reason for the migration of the puffins towards the archipelago is to breed. They arrive in the area around mid-April and leave again in early September. When they arrive, they gather on the water close to the nesting site. The nesting pair comes back each year, takes up the same burrow, a hole of some 70 to 100 cm dug into the ground. Before mating, the puffins indulge in sober courting rituals. In early June, the female lays the single egg that the parents take turns to incubate for 40 days. When the baby puffin hatches, its parents feed it on sand-eels and capelins.

During the Winter

Puffins winter on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland, spending most of their time looking for food.

Conservation

Check under the heading Research in order to see the Atlantic Puffin inventory taken during the summer of 1997.

More on... the Common Eider (Somateria mollissima)
A group of six female Common Eiders on the edge of the water
Common Eider, females
© Parks Canada / M. Boulianne / L 16 13 19, 1988

The Common Eider is a member of the Anatidae family. It weighs about 2.2 kg and its overall length may vary from 53 to 71 cm. This sturdy duck is very clumsy in flight. In summer, one often finds females gathered in a "brood" (a group of several females with that year's crop of youngsters).

Nesting

From the beginning of May, thousands of Eiders come to the islands. This is when we can see several hundred pairs floating offshore near some of the islands, and beginning their courting ritual. Then they come ashore to visit the chosen nesting site, which is often the same as that of the previous year. The female usually looks for a site away from the wind, where it is dry and where its robe can offer the best camouflage. They can be found in the hollows, in thick currant bushes, in the lower parts of stunted conifers and in the forest itself. Once the nest has been built, the female will lay its eggs at the rate of one a day. Usually, it lays three to five eggs. Incubation is the responsibility of the female alone and she does not leave the nest for 24 to 26 days.

The Eider generally nests on the outskirts or edges of the islands, though in certain small islands one may find nests all over the area. Once the females have settled on their nests, the males leave the colonies and gather together to shed their plumage. This is why, during the summer, we generally see only females with the young birds.

Winter Time

The Common Eider is the main form of bird life to winter in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. There may be tens of thousands of Eiders scattered in some fifteen flocks throughout the Mingan Archipelago. They settle down in areas where free running water is easily available. Their principal food sources are marine life, such as the Blue Mussel and the Green Sea Urchin.

Conservation

Since the park reserve was opened, the Conservation Service has drawn up three separate inventories. The objective was to determine the status of the populations and to improve current knowledge with regard to bird ecology, in order to give some direction to conservation efforts.. The number of Common Eider nesting pairs was 7267 in 1998.

More on... Seals
Two grey seals resting on a rocky reef flat
Grey Seals
© Parks Canada / M. Lachance / M 02 01 42, 1997
The Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus)

The Grey Seal is the most common species of seal on the archipelago. It has been nicknamed "tête-de-cheval" (horse's head) because of the long shape of its muzzle. In August and September, dozens or even hundreds of Grey Seals gather on the island strands. 1 For example, in the west sector of the archipelago, they are particularly fond of Caye Noire.
 
1 By strand, here, we mean a group of rocks or a beach that is exposed at low tide, where the seals can gather.

The Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina)

The Harbour Seal, which is less numerous than the Grey Seal, can be identified by its small size, rounded head and snub nose, and the distinctive "V" shape of its nostrils. After the birth of its young, the mother encourages it to take to the water immediately. The locals see it as a deliberate strategy by the mother to protect its baby from predators and admiringly nickname it the "loup-marin d'esprit" (intelligent wolf of the sea).

The Harp Seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus)

The young Harp Seal (or yellowcoat) is left to its own devices when it is two weeks old, which coincides with the spring thaw. The Harp Seals stop over near the archipelago from mid-April to the end of June, before continuing their migration to the Arctic. They can be seen leaping out of the water, moving around in small groups and churning up the sea as they indulge in their wild acrobatics. They are more successful in hunting as a group, and fatten up on capelins, herrings and krill, before continuing towards their Arctic destination. They leave the archipelago at the beginning of July.

More on... Whales
The back of a Minke whale on the surface of the water
Minke Whale
© Parks Canada / É. Le Bel / M 02 02 08, 1990

Over the past millions of years, whales have divided into two distinct suborders: the baleen whales ( Mysticeti ) and the toothed whales ( Odontoceti ).

These two groups differ primarily by their means of nourishment. The toothed whales (dolphins, porpoises, belugas, killer whales, sperm whales, etc.) catch their prey one by one, while the baleen whales (rorquals, bowheads, etc.) filter out their food after taking in an enormous mouthful of water.

Today there exist more than 80 species of whales, of which only 11 are baleen whales.

Baleen Whales

This group comprises the whales whose mouths are equipped with a filtration system known as baleen plates. The plates are made out of keratin, which is essentially the same material as our nails. Continuously growing and becoming worn on the outer end, they form a sieve at the tip of the baleen. The plates hang vertically, attached along the upper jaw. Depending on the species, 200 to 400 baleens are found on each side of a whale's mouth.

Baleen plates
Baleen plates
© Parks Canada / D. Rosset / M 02 02 185, 1990

In order to eat, a baleen whale opens its mouth under water and swallows an enormous amount of liquid that contains a substantial amount of food. It closes its mouth and, aided by its tongue, pushes on its palette so that the water is expelled through the baleens and then through the corners of its mouth. Acting as a sieve, the baleens filter out the water while retaining the food.

One group of baleen whales, the RORQUALS, have evolved to become highly efficient eaters. Named after the Norwegian word for "furrow", these whales have pleated grooves located under their throats, known as "ventral grooves". Moving like an accordion, the grooves allow the throat to expand so that the animal can increase the amount of water taken into its mouth. The blue whale, for instance, can filter up to 25,000 litres of water in just one mouthful! A larger volume of water means a larger amount of food in every swallow.

Scientists believe that a whale consumes the equivalent of about 4% of its weight in food every day. This means that if a blue whale weighs 100 tons, it must eat around 4 tons (4,000 kg) of food daily!

Toothed Whales

As they do not have a system for chewing, these whales swallow their prey whole. In addition, they are endowed with a very precise echolocation system that enables them to hunt by tracking other creatures' ultrasound emissions. In the case of the sperm whale, a sound wave produced in the upper section of its head is powerful enough to stun its victim. Momentarily paralysing their prey with the vibration, the sperm whale uses this opportunity to attack.