Whales and grandchildren, a perfect combination

We have lived in prime whale-watching country for more than 40 years, but it wasn’t until after I jumped at the opportunity to go whale watching – for killer whales – while on a trip to British Columbia 20 years ago that I thought, “Wait a minute, what about the whales at home?”

Killer whale sighting from our zodiac off Victoria, BC

Killer whale sighting from our zodiac off Victoria, BC

We have since rectified that omission many times over. If you haven’t been whale watching and you have the opportunity, it is something not to be missed. And it’s not meant to be just a one-time event, although once is way better than never. These are big animals. Spectacular. Majestic. The ocean is their domain. Also, being out in the open water brings many viewing experiences, with whales just being the main attraction out of the many entities you’ll encounter. During our most recent trip out on the Bay of Fundy – from St. Andrew’s, New Brunswick last week – we saw seals, porpoise, a puffin (somehow I missed it, but everyone else saw it), several other varieties of sea birds, herring weirs, and enjoyed a full hour of watching two humpback whales swimming alongside our boat, the first humpbacks of the season. And this time we had the pleasure of being joined by our grandchildren (and their parents), whose home near the Ottawa River boasts many pleasures, but no whales.

It was gratifying to observe two small children, a practically perfect 7-year old girl and equally practically perfect 4-year old boy, never once losing their focus or their fascination with everything they saw. Three and a half hours on the water is a long time for small children. Whale watching is quite a lot like game viewing in Africa; you spend a lot of time scanning the vicinity in front of you with care, looking for a sign, a signal, a clue. In this case we were looking for a slight bump on the water, some movement, or an unusual flattening of the surface of the water in one spot. Or maybe some whale spray. It requires patience. The good news for those of you wondering if young kids would buy into these periods of fairly tedious concentration, the answer is: yes, for sure.  There was no restlessness, no “there’s nothing to do,” and no “I’m bored.”   The young ones were just as good at spotting something as anyone else, which is pretty rewarding. It was a delight to see our grandchildren take to whale watching like proverbial ducks to water. They were clearly as enraptured as the grownups with each glimpse of these giant mammals.

Humpbacks cavorting

Humpbacks cavorting

Showing off for those on shore

Showing off for those on shore

Also, the crew of whale-watching tour boats is very good at providing helpful and educational information about the animals you see – and don’t see – and about other features of the ocean environment. Kids just soak this up. On the way back to St. Andrew’s, a portable touching pool (a large picnic cooler) was brought out to educate and entertain further. It featured sea animals like star fish, crabs, sea cucumbers, and carnivorous snails that kids could touch and hold as a crew member talked about how and what these animals eat. Very weird stories, by the way. You don’t want to know! And if you were too tired to check out the touching pool after a busy afternoon at sea, you could take a snooze as the boat transported you back to dry land.


By all reports, the afternoon tour we took differed from the morning and late afternoon trips taken by the same boat, during which they spotted bald eagles, minke whales and fin whales, but no humpbacks and no puffin. On the late afternoon tour, apparently those lucky people had a chance to see a fin whale lunge feeding. And that’s just one day on one small boat (around 40 passengers per trip) from one small town. Every trip offers up its own special gifts.

I’ve been blessed in this department. We’ve seen a fin whale dive right under one boat we were on; it was so long it just kept diving and diving and diving before its tail finally came into view. It seemed like it would go on forever. We’ve bobbed among the gray whales in their nursery lagoon on the Pacific side of the Baja, where you can actually get close enough to touch them.

Gray whale mama in the Baja

Gray whale mama in the Baja

Gray whale baby mugging for its admirers

Gray whale baby mugging for its admirers

We’ve spotted white belugas in the St. Lawrence River while on a ferry from St-Siméon to Rivière-du-Loup in Québec.

Beluga in the St Lawrence Estuary

Beluga in the St Lawrence Estuary

Next up just might be a narwhal sighting (Phil and Joanne, if you’re reading this, take note).

For anyone contemplating whale watching in the Bay of Fundy this season, I recommend the Quoddy Link out of St. Andrew’s, which operates a very stable catamaran. They’ve had a 100% viewing record so far this season. You can check out some of their daily sightings at http://quoddylinkmarine.blogspot.ca/.

Do any of you have favourite whale sightings or recommendations?


Photo credits: Howard and Jane Fritz

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21 Responses to Whales and grandchildren, a perfect combination

  1. jane tims says:

    Hi. We have done a few trips to see the whales. It is a privilege to share the planet with these creatures. Just being on the water is very refreshing too! Jane

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Jane, what a perfect way to express it. “It is a privilege to share the planet with these creatures,” precisely right. And it’s a joy to be able to spend some time on the water and observe them in action. Thanks for stopping by. And thanks for sharing your watercolour journey.

  2. Very nice photos. I love to see whales. Alaska is a great place for this types of tours.

  3. Roy McCarthy says:

    As always Jane I’m happy to see all these wondrous sights through your eyes from the comfort of my armchair. We were meant to be watching something off Tenerife once but I was too busy holding on for dear life in the swell to take any notice 😦

  4. Heyjude says:

    Lovely to hear form you again Jane. It is a great post! I have seen Orcas off Vancouver Island and two large southern right whales in False Bay many years ago, and dolphins in Australia, but never got any decent photos, so I shall definitely go whale watching again when the opportunity arises.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      It’s not that easy to get good pics when whale watching. So little of them actually shows above the water, especially for long enough to hold a camera snap. But it’s fun to keep trying! I’ve been enjoying your descriptions of your trip to Vancouver Island. We’re going back there in a few weeks for a family wedding and will be passing through some of your spots.

  5. Steph says:

    I have wanted to see a whale for years. Never have had the chance. But someday…

  6. They’ve been ‘in’ around here for the past month. They seem to especially like the human gawkers. If you watch from shore you will notice that the whales will be normally just swimming around and occasionally breaching to breathe. Whenever a tour boat comes in to the area, though, they put off a grand show.

  7. alesiablogs says:

    Ok.. I am going to go see Whales now. You have inspired me!

  8. A.M.B. says:

    What a lovely experience to share with your grandchildren! I can identify with these words: “They were clearly as enraptured as the grownups with each glimpse of these giant mammals.” I find that Mother Nature tends to make us all feel like children in the best ways.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I agree. When adults can slow down enough to really engage with nature (and disengage from technology), that sense of awe returns pretty quickly. You can’t look for whales or lions without slowing down and engaging. Kids can remind us that there is awe in the smaller artifacts of nature, too. Snails, stones, shells, worms, you name it!

  9. A wonderful post! Great photos and info and the sleeping grandchild clinches the deal. I have lived on the West Coast all my life (most of that on Vancouver Island) and have never once been whale watching. What a confession. After reading this post, I’m sort of glad though. Now I can have this adventure with grandchildren, which can’t help but improve the whole thing.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Fran. I love your confession. You live in paradise, but you definitely should experience that slice of your paradise sometime. I’m pleased to have provided the incentive. What about spirit bears??!

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