A Record-Breaking Research Season

Driving with the tiny house.

We have been on the road now since June, and it is hard to believe that our summer expedition is coming to an end. We have enjoyed every minute of the journey—from the mammals we’ve seen and studied to the people we’ve met through our tiny home. Over the last few months, we have had the opportunity to interact with so many people interested in learning about and contributing to our mission, and we hope to continue to share our experiences as we travel to our next destination.

Showing the tiny home to locals. (Copyright Katy Gavrilchuk & David Gaspard)

Throughout our studies, accomplished with the Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS), we have had the opportunity to observe so many amazing animals. These include several hundred harbour porpoises and grey seals, over 100 minke whales, 85 humpback whales and 75 fin whales. We even spotted Atlantic white-sided dolphins on two separate occasions. On our second sighting, there were at least 100 dolphins jumping out of the water!

We also observed six blue whales—one of which hadn’t been sighted in 20 years! Lastly, we spotted over 20 different North Atlantic Right whales—which makes for a record-breaking year observing this species, as only approximately 500 remain of this endangered population.

After decreasing reports of whale sightings on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, we decided to pack up and hit the road with our tiny home in order to follow the seasonal movements of the whales. We’ve landed in Rimouski, a medium-sized town situated right at the mouth of the Rimouski river. We have heard reports of whale sightings in the area, which is an estuary of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. One of our collaborators believes around 15 blue whales (an endangered species), have made these waters home for the time being. We plan to stay here for the fall, and in spite of the cold, windy weather, we hope to get out on the water several times to study these animals.

Whale tail.
(Copyright Katy Gavrilchuk & David Gaspard)

Our tiny home has been immensely helpful in our journey and we were able to achieve our goals, including accomplishing our research and reducing our personal impact on the environment. We made a considerable effort to use products that are eco-friendly, however, if we could have changed one aspect of the build, we would have loved to use salvaged framing wood and plywood to reduce our impact even further! Within the next few months, we are hoping to have our photovoltaic system fully functional to provide clean energy to the house as well.

Utilizing the tiny home as a mobile research base worked even better than we anticipated. We were able to carefully plan the route and traveled 957 miles this summer! Having the freedom to move our research base whenever necessary was a great help in tracking these highly mobile mammals.

We want to take this time to once again thank our generous sponsors! Without them, this journey would not have been possible. To learn more about the Atlas EnergyShield® product used in the build, visit atlasroofing.com.

Katy & David

Latest From Our Expedition

Blue whale. (Copyright Katy Gavrilchuk and David Gaspard)

We have been on the road with our tiny home for about four months and have had a very rewarding time studying marine life and hopefully influencing others to live smaller and more economically-conscious lifestyles. We began our tiny house journey to help alleviate logistical challenges and reduce costs of our whale expedition, in hopes to also lead by example and show others that they can impact the environment in a positive way.

We have stopped in Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan for now, where the whales are abundant, and have been able to give tours of the tiny home and get to know the local residents. Some locals have even helped us install electrical upgrades to our traveling research hub!

Throughout our expedition this summer, we have studied thirteen unique whale and dolphin species found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and along the coast of Canada. Even though they live close in proximity, each species is incredibly different.

We have seen about 50 humpback whales and 50 fin whales so far. In addition, we have seen 3 humpback whale calves –one of which was so curious, that he circled around the boat several times (with his mother keeping a close eye, of course)! Among the humpback whales we have seen, many are animals we have known for several years. Splish, for example (shown below), was first photographed on an expedition in 1980. When we spotted Splish this year, she was accompanied by another whale we have known since the 80’s, a female humpback named Tracks. Splish and Tracks appear to have established a long-term association, since we have seen them together frequently over the last six years.

Humpback Whale, Splish.
Humpback Whale, Splish (Copyright Katy Gavrilchuk and David Gaspard)

Our next stop will most likely be in a small city located in the Estuary of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Rimouski. In Rimouski, we will get the chance to study different whale species, like the endangered blue whale.

To continue to follow our journey and learn more about the many whale and dolphin species we encounter, please check back!

In closing, we’d like to share what we believe are interesting facts about some of the species we are following. Enjoy!

Katy & David

Did You Know?

  • Blue whales (or Balaenoptera musculus) are the largest animal to have ever lived on earth and can be recognized by their unique blue/grey pigmentation pattern.
  • A blue whale’s tongue weighs about 2.7 tons (the weight of an elephant) and its mouth can hold up to 90 tons of food and water!
  • The fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), the second largest animal after the blue whale, is the one of the only mammals to have asymmetric body coloration – their right lower jaw is white while the left lower jaw is dark-colored.
Humpback whale breaching.
Humpback whale breaching. (Copyright Katy Gavrilchuk and David Gaspard)
  • The male humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) sings to attract females as a type of courtship display and in addition, their singing may also be used to establish dominance among males.
  • Just like humans, female humpback whales have been known to have long-lasting associations with other females.

Updates on Our Tiny House Expedition

Biologists on the sea.

Just a few weeks ago, we began our long anticipated journey and can’t wait to share updates as we travel to new destinations. We have already been lucky enough to observe the first whales of the season. So far we’ve seen more than ten humpback whales, one of whom is a regular male (Pythagore—shown below) we’ve known for over 10 years!

Humpback Whale, Pythagore.
Here’s a photo of Pythagore! (Copyright Katy Gavrilchuk and David Gaspard)

From a young age, we were both incredibly interested in wildlife and the environment and we pursued this passion through our studies and real life research experience.
As we learned more about how habitats and species had been adversely affected by humans, we were determined to find a way to become proactively involved in helping our environment.

In 2007, we began working at the Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS), a non-profit research organization dedicated to ecological studies of marine mammals and ecosystems. We have been on many expeditions in partnership with MICS, primarily focused on the long-term monitoring of whale and dolphin populations. We have also worked on research projects with wolves, Arctic fox, and tropical bird species.

Mobile Research Base: Improved Efficiencies, Mobility & Comfort

The environmentally sound tiny home that is serving as our research base is helping us with mobility, operational costs and covering a larger portion of the area whales occupy. With the tiny construction, we are able to keep a team on location at all times rather than wasting hours traveling or having to change locations due to lodging costs. Throughout the course of our journey, we want to raise awareness about environmental concerns and the benefits of living smaller.

Driving down the road.
On the road. (Copyright Katy Gavrilchuk and David Gaspard)

For now, we are based in the remote village of Longue-Pointe-de-Mingan on the north shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence. There have been plenty of whales in this area so far, so there hasn’t been a need to move the tiny house with considerable research at the current location. If we begin to notice a shift in distribution of the whales, we will send a mobile unit out to cover different areas of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Potentially in the late summer or early autumn months, we will need to displace, as the whales will begin to move to new areas. When that happens, the tiny house is quite easy to move. We simply need a pick-up truck with a strong towing capacity.
In terms of comfort, the tiny house is always at the perfect temperature. With the well-insulated floor, walls and roof (with the help of Atlas EnergyShield), we are never cold, even when the temperatures drop to 5 degrees Celsius at night. During the day, when temperatures can rise up to 25 or 30 degrees Celsius, we typically open the windows to allow wind to flow through, providing natural ventilation.

We will continue to share more of our journey and encounters with whales with you over the course of the research season!

Katy & David

Why a Tiny House? Our Journey to Reduce Our Carbon Footprint

 

After the 2015 whale expedition season, when faced with high travel costs and a lack of time to dedicate to studying whales, we began thinking of ways to alleviate these issues for future expeditions. We also wanted to reduce our carbon footprint and create less waste. The solution… a tiny house!

Map of course.
Map of course.

When looking for a way to begin building our tiny home, we partnered with Atlas Roofing to help source some of the necessary supplies. When you think of Atlas Roofing, you don’t typically think of whale expeditions and wildlife biologists, however this summer may change all of that.

Starting in June, we will begin our expedition to study several of the thirteen different whale and dolphin species in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. With the help of many sponsors, including Atlas Roofing, we were able to build an environmentally sound tiny home that will serve as our mobile research base. It will assist in our expedition by saving us time and money and will keep our own carbon footprint to a minimum.

Once we determined that the Atlas products met all of our qualifications (including being energy efficient and manufactured sustainably!), we chose the Atlas EnergyShield® Pro foam boards for both the walls and the roof of the house. The boards feature a high R-value and Class A durable aluminum facer that also serve as a water resistive barrier—all very helpful qualities for our tiny house.

We will soon be embarking on our 670-mile journey along the eastern coast of Canada. Our journey will begin in Montreal and we will track the whales to Mingan, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Along the way, we will be making several stops in order to promote environmental awareness and living small.

Over the next few months, we will update our blog on how the expedition is going. To continue to follow our journey and learn more about the tiny house, please check back!

Katy & David