Beluga: A Farewell to Whales

Personal essay
Author: Pierre Béland, English translation by Claire Dupond
Illustrations: Frédéric Back
Published by Lyons & Burford, 1996


Drawing on his own experience with belugas, scientist Pierre Béland tells the true story of the "white whales" of the St. Lawrence estuary. He looks at human activity on the river over the centuries and its impact on the life of this wild animal on the brink of extinction, and shows what can be done to avoid the tragedy of their total disappearance. His gripping essay, informed by his research and scientific knowledge, is enhanced by some twenty of Frédéric Back's drawings.


Frédéric Back met Pierre Béland during the research for his film The Mighty River. Béland, a biologist specializing in the study of the beluga, was trying at the time to set up a centre to do research on the causes of the huge numbers of premature deaths among the beluga in the St. Lawrence River basin. To get operating funds for the laboratories at the St. Lawrence National Institute of Ecotoxicology he wanted to create, he set up a program that let people "adopt-a-beluga" for CDN$5,000. Frédéric Back had been aware of the plight of the whales for a long time, and canvassed his colleagues at Radio-Canada to join the adoption campaign. The sale to a Japanese company of an excerpt from The Man Who Planted Trees meant he could top up the amount contributed by the Radio-Canada employees. The young female they adopted was called Antarès. Two and a half years later, she was discovered washed up on the ice of the Saguenay River, dead of liver cancer. When Pierre Béland decided to write a book on the beluga, it was of course Frédéric Back he asked to do the illustrations. Ten years later, Back is still actively involved in saving the beluga.