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