the characters

You don’t have a story if you don’t have great characters. Of course, we had wonderful characters in the beluga themselves, but we also had fantastic cooperation from the human characters we met as we filmed this story. We deeply admire the work they are all doing to help the belugas. Below are the key interview subjects in the film.

Key Characters
(alphabetical order)

Pierre Béland, Ph.D., Head Scientist, St. Lawrence National Institute of Ecotoxicology

Passionate towards life and naturally inquisitive, Pierre Béland hurled himself into the science world, as one embarks on a great journey. His academic training (doctorate and post-doctorate studies on the ecology of animal populations) and work experience led him to travel the world and to address all kinds of interesting questions: dinosaur metabolism, mass extinctions, aquaculture and whales. It is completely by chance that he first became interested in the St. Lawrence beluga. It was in 1982, he was then the head of the Fisheries Ecology Research Center of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and he had gone to the beach near Rimouski where a dead beluga had been found. With his colleague, Daniel Martineau, he started the work of a genuine sleuth: to find out why the belugas of the St. Lawrence River were dying and whether a link existed between their death and the health status of the River.

His ties with the St. Lawrence beluga whale have led Mr Béland to question the health of the environment, the future of humanity, and our responsibility towards other life forms. He now shares these questions and concerns with the general public. He is the author of Beluga: a farewell to whales, a vibrant homage to the fragility of life and our sometimes awkward attempts to safeguard it.
(Biography courtesy of www.baleinesendirect.org)

Robert Michaud, Director of Research Programs, Groupe de recherche et d’éducation sur les mammifères marins (GREMM)

Robert Michaud’s relationship with the whales of the St. Lawrence all started when he was hired to work as a naturalist aboard the first boats that started taking tourists out to see the whales off Tadoussac in the early 1980s. What had started out as a summer job turned into a career. Surrounded by acolytes as passionate as himself, he decided to found the Groupe de recherche et d’éducation sur les mammifères marins (GREMM) in 1985. His goal: study the whales to better understand and better protect them. He set out to use his newly acquired understanding to feed the public fascination for whales and to heighten awareness of the importance of protecting the marine environment.

The research that he was to accomplish with the GREMM was to deal mainly with the behavioural ecology of large rorqual whales and the impact of tourism. In 1987 he co-founded the St. Lawrence National Institute of Ecotoxicology (SLNIE) with Pierre Béland and is presently in charge of a long term study on the St. Lawrence beluga whale population. He completed a masters degree at Université Laval on the distribution of St. Lawrence belugas and has since undertaken a doctoral degree with Hal Whitehead at Dalhousie University to study the social organisation of the beluga.

Along with his research work, Robert Michaud remains actively involved in the fields of education and conservation. He is coordinator of the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network. He actively participates in sustainable development and responsible whale-watching practices with : Eco-Whale Alliance. He contributed to the creation of the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre (CIMM) in Tadoussac in 1991, gives annual conferences, and participates in news reports and interviews with various media from Canada and around the world.
(Biography courtesy of www.baleinesendirect.org)

Tim Frasier, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Biology and Forensic Sciences Program, Saint Mary’s University

The focus of Tim Frasier’s research program is to improve the theory and practice of animal conservation through the use of genetics, with an emphasis on marine mammals. He is particularly interested in how the genetic characteristics of individuals shape patterns of mate choice, reproductive success, and health, and how these individual-based patterns combine to shape overall population patterns and trends. Achieving these goals often requires the development of new laboratory or analytical techniques, and therefore he also does a lot of “method” development.

Catherine Kinsman, Founder and Project Director, Whale Stewardship Project

Catherine Kinsman founded the Whale Stewardship Project in 1998 in answer to the need for protection, education and research on behalf of a solitary sociable beluga whale in Nova Scotia. With funding support from the general public and approval from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, she designed and implemented an effective program that helped to minimize dangers to the whale through encouraging respectful and responsible conduct by whale watchers. As Project Director, Catherine has since built on that success and experience for the benefit of several other unique beluga whales and communities in Atlantic Canada, most recently in Newfoundland & Labrador.

Catherine’s cetacean work began in 1990 with her independent study of whales and dolphins in Canada, New Zealand and USA. For nearly two years in Florida, Catherine participated in a program to rehabilitate previously captive bottlenose dolphins for return to their native waters. In addition to daily care of up to six dolphins, she assisted with readaptation protocols. While in New Zealand, Catherine investigated human/dolphin swim operations and completed a course with Project Jonah in whale stranding and rescue.  Catherine has been privileged since 1995 to know as friend, colleague and mentor, Dr. Toni Frohoff, one of the world’s leading behavioural biologists specializing in human-dolphin interactions. Under the direction of Dr. Frohoff, Cathy began her behavioural  research training in a two-year study for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), which looked at high-risk interaction between humans and captive dolphins in North American petting/feeding pools. Her contribution to this project included scoring (analyzing) videotape data, writing and assisting Dr. Frohoff with development of a behavioural catalogue. The study results have been incorporated into a recent report by WDCS and the Humane Society of the United States. Catherine has also co-authored scientific publications on solitary sociable beluga whales. Catherine’s passion for whales and dolphins encompasses a wide range of expression from music composition, film making and painting, to popular and scientific writing. Her work has been featured in several documentaries internationally. She is also writer and co-producer of  her own educational documentary film Where Whales and Humans Meet , which garnered three awards in the categories of  education and human/animal interaction at the 2000 International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula, Montana. She is a contributing author in the anthology entitled, Between Species: A Celebration of the Dolphin-Human Bond, edited by Toni Frohoff and Brenda Peterson, published May 2003 by Sierra Club Books. Catherine’s commitment  to sharing important information about marine life and the environment is evident through the many presentations she gives in schools, universities and other institutions.

(Biography courtesy of www.whalestewardship.org)

Stéphane Lair, Professor, Faculté de médecine vétérinaire, Université de Montréal
Regional director of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative

Dr. Lair graduated from the Faculté de médecine vétérinaire of the Université de Montréal in 1989. He then completed a one year internship at the Provincial Raptor Clinic and a Residency in Wildlife Pathology at the same university. Following this, he did a residency in Zoo Animal Medicine and Pathology at the University of Guelph / Toronto Zoo, Canada. He became a Diplomate of the American College Zoological Medicine in 1999. After working for 3 years as the Campus Veterinarian for the University of British Columbia, Canada, he was appointed as a Professor in Zoological Medicine at the Faculté de médecine vétérinaire of the Université de Montréal. In addition to its commitments to the Zoological Medicine Service at the university, he is also the Regional Director of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative for the province of Quebec and therefore involved in wildlife disease investigation. He is also the consulting veterinarian for the Quebec Aquarium. Dr. Lair has been involved with the St. Lawrence beluga whale pathology program since he did his residency in the 90s. He is currently in charge of this ongoing necropsy program, which provides one of the longest uninterrupted data series on causes of mortality in a population of cetaceans.

Véronique Lesage, Ph.D.,
Research Scientist, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Dr. Véronique Lesage joined the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in 2000, as a research scientist working on cetaceans in the Quebec region. She is a member of the committee of scientific advisors for the Society of Marine Mammalogy, and of the research groups Quebec Ocean and Arcticnet. Dr. Lesage has been studying marine mammals since 1990. Her past research has examined habitat use and foraging ecology of harbour seals in Atlantic Canada, and effects of manmade noise and vessel traffic on beluga whales in both the St Lawrence Estuary and northern Quebec (Nunavik). Current research involves studies on trophic relationships, foraging ecology, spatial use and movements of beluga whales, fin whales, blue whales and harbour porpoises, population dynamics of beluga whales, harbour porpoise-commercial fisheries interactions, and effects of manmade noise and vessel traffic on beluga, and blue whales. She holds a Ph.D. in Biology, and is a professor at University of Quebec in Rimouski, ISMER, and Laval University, Quebec.
Nadia Ménard, Ecologist, Team Leader, Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park

Nadia Ménard is a marine ecologist with Parks Canada at the Saguenay-St.Lawrence Marine Park. As a team member of the Marine Park for the past 23 years, she has had the opportunity to participate in all the major steps involving the establishment of one of Canada’s first marine protected areas. Her functions have brought her to coordinate the implementation of the ecosystem conservation plan at the Marine Park, to collaborate in numerous research projects and to work in a multi-stakeholder context. She presently leads the Marine Park’s research and monitoring program which includes monitoring of whale-watching activities and of prey for marine wildlife.

Leone Pippard,
Strategic Planner, Leone Pippard and Associates

Leone Pippard saw her first whale in 1973. With a friend photographer, the then 26-year-old freelance journalist from Toronto had come to Quebec to cover the work that a group of researchers was planning to do on marine mammals. However, at the last minute, due to a lack of financial support, the researchers aborted the operation. “We found ourselves in Montréal with all our equipment and nothing to report on. We then decided to conduct our own research.”

In the 1970s, almost nothing was known of the belugas of the St. Lawrence. Together with her colleague, Ms. Pippard was the one that sounded the alarm. After that first summer spent observing these white whales, they had returned both worried and outraged. Then, year after year, they returned to Tadoussac. Ms. Pippard subsequently carried on alone in what would become an unfaltering commitment. In order to be closer to her cause, she moved to Quebec and learned French.

Her efforts paid off. A beluga carcass recovery program was spearheaded in 1982, an action plan developed by the two levels of government addressed chemical pollution issues, a beluga recovery plan was implemented, and the first marine protected area in Quebec was created in the heart of St. Lawrence beluga habitat: the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park. Since then, she created her own consulting firm specializing in sustainable development, based in New Brunswick. Rewarded many times over, Leone Pippard was able to distinguish herself despite lacking a scientific background. “Of course, nobody knows if we’ll save the animals”, she says. “But the important thing at this stage is all these people who are prepared to fight to save them.”
(Biography courtesy of www.baleinesendirect.org)

Valeria Vergara, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Vancouver Aquarium

As a behavioral ecologist, Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center Researcher Dr. Valeria Vergara is particularly interested in the communicative, perceptual, and cognitive capacities of animals.  Dr. Vergara’s groundbreaking doctorate research, through the University of British Columbia, was the first to document how beluga calves develop their rich repertoires of sounds, and to identify critical calls used to maintain group cohesion and mother-calf contact. Her work has taken her to the Nelson River Estuary (Hudson Bay), the St Lawrence River Estuary and Cunningham Inlet in the Canadian High Arctic. Her current beluga research addresses the problems these sound-centered animals face in their increasingly noisy environment.  In identifying the call types most closely linked to survival her work helps to evaluate the impacts of anthropogenic noise on beluga populations and their ability to communicate efficiently, and to survive.