For the second time in two years, a whale has been sighted in the Montreal area, hundreds of miles from its usual habitat, the head of a marine mammal research group confirmed on Monday.

Robert Michaud of the Réseau Québecois d’urgences pour les mammifères marins says a young minke whale was spotted for the first time on Sunday in the St. Lawrence River near the city’s Parc Jean-Drapeau.

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Michaud said it’s not clear why the whale would make such a long journey to a freshwater habitat that isn’t healthy for it. The minke may be sick or disoriented, but it’s also possible he’s just curious, she said.

“Maybe it’s just an explorer, a young animal following a fish and making one bad decision after another,” he said in a telephone interview.

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Late Monday afternoon, the whale could be seen in a section of the river that flows between two islands, in the shadow of the Montreal Biosphere built for Expo 67.

Crowds lined a bridge spanning the waterway, pointing and gasping as the little gray whale periodically came up for air.

The sighting comes nearly two years after another whale, a humpback, spent several days near Montreal’s Old Port, where it delighted onlookers with its acrobatic leaps out of the water. Despite its apparent good health, that whale was found dead in June 2020 and a necropsy suggested the 10-meter-long animal may have been hit by a boat.

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Michaud said minke whales are “the smallest of the great whales,” reaching about eight meters in length. While fairly common in Quebec, they generally don’t venture west of the St. Lawrence Estuary around Tadoussac, where the water is salty.

While the whale off Montreal appears healthy, its current location is “not a nice place for a whale,” he said. “It’s 450 kilometers upriver from where it should be at this time of year.”

A team has been deployed to watch for the whale, but Michaud said the group can’t do much to help other than warn boaters to be careful. He said there are no known techniques for transporting or driving an animal of that size down a river.

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He said it’s also unlikely experts will be able to carry out the kind of 24-hour monitoring needed to avoid another ship strike altogether, because to do so would involve piercing the animal’s skin with a GPS tracker when it’s already at higher risk of infection from its freshwater environment.

He said the group is crossing their fingers and hoping the whale will turn around and head back downriver on its own, and avoid the fate of its predecessor.

“The best we can do is wish him good luck,” he said.

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