The Great Whale River (La Grande Riviere de la Baleine) travels 724 km from its headwaters at Lake Bienville, through Quebec's central lake plateau to the Hudson Bay. Its drainage area encompasses 42 700 sq. kilometers (km) and its average annual discharge is 21.4 cubic kilometers. Giant rapids characterize the wild, pristine nature of the Great Whale. Beluga whales, caribou, wolf and rare fresh water seals are among the region's abundant wildlife.
From Lake Bienville, the Great Whale River flows eastward past sub-arctic scenery of granite, stunted trees and brilliantly colored lichen. The river course abounds with rapids and it drops 45 m over the last 30 km before flowing sluggishly past sandbars and beaches into Hudson Bay. Kuujjuarapik (Poste-de-la-Baleine), situated at the river mouth, is the only settlement along its course.
The Great Whale Settlement (Kuujjuarapik) was once the site of an important Hudson Bay Trading Company post. Recently the Great Whale River has been at the heart of a major controversy focusing on hydroelectric development.
Hydro-Quebec announced plans to divert the river into the existing reservoirs of La Grande Hydro Complex (part of the large-scale James Bay Hydroelectric Project). This would reduce the flow of the Great Whale by 85% and dramatically alter the region's wilderness. The Whapmagoostui First Nations people (Great Whale River Crees) strongly oppose these plans since the Great Whale has supported them and their ancestors for centuries and such drastic changes would severely threaten their livelihood and heritage.