Wayward humpback whale, beloved to Montrealers, found dead floating down St. Lawrence

About a week after a humpback whale showed up near the Old Port of Montreal, the whale's lifeless body was seen Tuesday morning, drifting down the St. Lawrence River near Varennes, about 30 kilometres downstream from the city.

Experts had hoped the whale would return to Tadoussac, northeast of the city

The humpback whale, first spotted near Montreal's Jacques Cartier Bridge on May 30, drew hundreds of people to the Old Port. The whale was last seen near the east end of the island on Sunday. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

A wayward humpback whale that had enchanted Montrealers and drawn crowds near the city's Old Port appears to have died. 

The whale's lifeless body was seen Tuesday morning, drifting down the St. Lawrence River near Varennes, about 30 kilometres downstream from the city.

Simon Lebrun, a maritime pilot, spotted the whale near Beauregard Island and posted a video on social media.

Workers were eventually able to remove the whale, which could weigh as much as 12 tonnes, to a shore to perform a necropsy.

The cause of the whale's death is not yet known.

Robert Michaud, co-ordinator for the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Network, said he doesn't doubt that the whale in the video is the same one spotted by Montrealers last week.

Michaud said a team will be on-site to assist Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the faculty of veterinary medicine at the University of Montreal.

According to Michaud, it was the first time a humpback whale made its way into Montreal waters. It was first spotted in the city on May 30, near the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, and was last seen swimming near Pointe-aux-Trembles Sunday morning. 

The humpback whale was spotted drifting lifelessly near Varennes Tuesday morning. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Far from its natural habitat

Experts had hoped that the humpback was swimming home to Tadoussac, where the cold freshwater from the Saguenay River meets the warmer, salty water of the St. Lawrence to create a rich marine environment attractive to several whale species.

"We definitely thought that she was heading back downstream, for the estuary and the gulf," said Michaud.

Michaud said that while the whale seemed like it was in good health, it was facing several challenges on its journey back home.

The humpback, far from its natural habitat, may have been dehydrated after swimming so long in the fresh waters of the St. Lawrence River.

A crane lifts the carcass from the water near Varennes on Tuesday evening. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

The whale was also in a busy shipping zone, Michaud said, and it may have collided with a vessel. 

Humpback whales are one of the largest marine mammal species, measuring up to 15 metres long.

Montrealers, who had flocked to the Old Port with cameras in tow to watch the whale, mourned its death on social media Tuesday.

Some said the whale was a bright spot in a chaotic time, and expressed sadness about its death.

Others said this incident is a reminder of the importance of keeping the St. Lawrence River clean from pollutants.


Jennifer Yoon


Jennifer Yoon is a journalist at CBC Montreal.


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