History and context
The Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS) was founded in 1979 and in 2018 it will be entering its 40th field season in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The project focuses on baleen whale species, such as blue and fin whales and uses photo-identification, satellite tagging, genetic sampling and other methods to estimate population numbers and survival rates and to determine temporal and spatial distribution and habitat use1-5. The unique long-term data sets generated by the project are allowing the team to monitor population parameters over time and detect important trends1,2. The project has also documented a worrying shift in the arrival times of whales to this important feeding ground, an indication that climate change is affecting whale migrations and their prey3. This important information is published in scientific journals and shared with other bodies responsible for conservation and management of the whales.
From its inception almost 40 years ago, the project has also included an outreach component which was intended to educate the general public and thus contribute to whale conservation and protection. The project runs museum and gift shop in Longue-pointe-de-Mingan, which hosts roughly 2000 visitors per year, and a whale adoption programme that allows individuals to adopt a whale and receive photos, information, and updates about the chosen whale. One of its most unique outreach programmes revolves around week-long or 2-week long residential research sessions that are open to members of the public. These Whale Research Adventures offer participants the opportunity to become "research apprentices" and join the research team and learn about different techniques employed by biologists who study cetaceans. Through these programmes tourists gain extensive knowledge of cetaceans and research techniques, and at the same time help to fund the project’s work. The project makes it clear that a third of each participant’s fees contribute to the running of the research station and its conservation projects.
Two to three programmes are offered each year accommodating a total of 25-50 participants in varying locations. The main programme is centered at the research station’s headquarters in the Mingan Islands region, while another one is mobile from one year to the next, following the distribution of blue whales during the late summer. Participants are well aware of the conditions of the experience: 6-10 days on small boats (weather permitting), mixed with days on land processing collected data, and matching photographs of whales to the existing catalogue, and other research related tasks.