Close popup button

For the best experience, we suggest you turn your device.


Petits Escoumins

A minke whale like Petits Escoumins weighs the equivalent of 7 small cars!

Don’t be fooled: Even if it is the smallest of the great whales, it’s still quite big!

Petits Escoumins had never been formally identified during her lifetime. Many minke whales visit the St. Lawrence, but few researchers study them, so it is very possible that she had visited the area without ever having been photographed.

Get more information
Three minke whales come to the surface to breathe.

In October 1997, a minke whale carcass washes ashore at the mouth of the Petits Escoumins River, in the yard of a local captain. As the flensing team gets to work, they discover a second whale...

Get more information
A stranded minke whale carcass.

Want to look smart the next time you go whale-watching in the St. Lawrence? When you spot a minke whale, announce that it’s a female! And you will almost certainly be right.

Get more information
A researcher shoots a dart at a minke whale with a crossbow.
Close-up view of the fingers of a researcher removing the fat and skin sample from a dart using a pair of forceps.

Even if males and females live separately during the summer, this is not really a problem in terms of reproduction... When Petits Escoumins arrived in the St. Lawrence, she had a single objective: to eat!

Get more information
A minke whale’s head emerges at the surface, its mouth still swollen as it spits out excess water from its most recent gulp.

It was estimated that Petits Escoumins’s fetus was approximately 6 to 8 months into its development. The total gestation period for a minke whale is 10 months. At this stage of development, the bones of the fetus are much more fragile than those of an adult and can easily break if they are cleaned the same way.

Get more information
Photo of the skeleton of a minke whale fetus.

After gestation comes calving, then nursing. After all, whales are mammals just like us!

But before all that, they must mate. Whales “do it” just like us… Or almost!

Generally speaking, it is difficult to tell a male from a female. But if we can get a look at the whale’s belly, the position of the genital slit will give us the answer. Most of the time, the genitals of males remain hidden inside the genital slit.

Get more information
Diagrams showing the ventral sides of a male and a female minke whale. The male’s genital slit is located about halfway between the anus and the navel. In females, this slit is positioned much closer to the anus and there is a breast slit on either side.

How do whales select their mate?

Some cetaceans like humpbacks and right whales are known to have gathering places where they reproduce. Males may engage in intense fighting in these waters. This type of behaviour is not observed in minke whales, however.

Get more information
Two minke whales swim side by side.

How does gestation take place in whales?

After fertilization, the fetus spends several months developing inside the mother’s uterus. Gestation is generally quite long in whales: between 10 and 18 months, depending on the species.

Get more information
Gestation period
Minke whale: 10 months
Beluga: 14 months
Human: 9 months

How does calving take place in whales?

Unlike most mammals, which are born head first, baby whales are usually born tail first.

Get more information
Video Transcript

How do whales nurse?

Like all mammals, the calf latches onto its mother’s nipple, but calves do not have strong enough muscles in their mouths to suckle, so the mother must expel the milk.

Get more information
Video Transcript

Through her milk, the mother gives the calf all the nutrients it needs. Unfortunately, she also transfers contaminants that she has accumulated in the course of her life...

Over the years, many chemicals have ended up in the St. Lawrence as a result of human activities, some of which are now found in the marine food chain.

Get more information
Aerial view of the St. Lawrence. On the left you the shore and the right the body of water.

Over time, as long as the whale is in a contaminated environment, it will continue to accumulate more and more contaminants through a phenomenon called bioaccumulation, as well as through biomagnification.

Get more information
Diagram illustrating bioaccumulation and biomagnification. Bioaccumulation: Fish are shown on a timeline; With time, the fish grow larger and accumulate more and more contaminants.
Biomagnification: Diagram illustrating the food chain of the minke whale: phytoplankton is eaten by zooplankton, which is eaten by small fish, which are eaten by minke whales. The contamination rate gets higher and higher the further one moves up the food chain.

The various contaminants that a whale accumulates can have an impact on its health, affecting its immune system or even its reproduction. Some products are even carcinogenic.

Get more information
A beluga carcass washed up on the beach. The tail of the calf that was being born is sticking out of the genital slit.

What can be done to reduce contamination?

A researcher cuts a sample of whale skin and fat using forceps and a scalpel.

Research and monitoring to better identify the sources of contaminants.

Get more information
Drawing of a barrel containing an environmentally hazardous chemical inside a prohibition sign.

Ban problematic contaminants and apply the precautionary principle for any new products that are developed.

Get more information

What can we do on an individual level to help reduce contamination?

Pay attention to the products we consume and how we dispose of them. Some contaminants found in whales are also found in everyday products.

Get more information
Drawing of a character wondering about which products are environmentally friendly.

Now that you’ve heard Petits Escoumins’s story, let’s go meet the other whales!

See the skeleton in 3D
Fact sheet
return to menu button