Years ago I was looking at some fantastic nature photographs and I saw one with people kayaking next to whales. I had always wanted to see whales in the wild and that photo grabbed me hard. I decided to put “kayaking with whales” on my bucket list, as unlikely as it was that I would ever do it. Fast forward to many years later and I have had many whale encounters, all of them Canadian. Canada is one of the best countries in the world to see the best variety of whales and if you are a whale lover like me then come and play in my backyard.
I saw my first whale in Newfoundland. In late spring it is iceberg season there; a time when massive blocks of prehistoric ice move down on the ocean currents from the far north and parade themselves past admiring folks along the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador. Near the end of this iceberg season, the whales start returning from their winter breeding and feeding grounds to the south. If you time it right, you can explore both bergs and whales in one epic adventure. Our timing that year was on point and over two weeks we ventured out in a variety of water craft to see majestic icebergs of all shapes and sizes as well as humpback and minke whales. On our very first day in St John’s, we drove up to Cape Spear to see Canada’s most eastern point and the iconic lighthouse. In true Newfoundland style, the fog rolled in like soup obscuring our view of the ocean. We started to walk back to the car in disappointment when we heard it…the explosive sound of water and air that only a blow hole can make. We scrambled back to the wall straining to see something in the fog. Like magic, the mist parted and we were gifted with two humpback whales cruising along the shoreline, almost close enough to smell the fish breath. I was in heaven.
Our next whale adventure delivered us to Ecotours Zodiac Adventures where we went out with one other couple and Captain Ray in a Zodiac boat. Not only did we see a beautiful humpback whale, we also saw a rolling iceberg and one of the largest puffin colonies in North America. It was another epic day you can only have in Newfoundland. Over the next 10 days we also went in search of whales in Twillingate and up in St. Anthony on the northern tip of the island. We saw bergs and whales galore and I was now solidly hooked and in love with these giants of the ocean. We met up with a lovely
fellow from Newfoundland Avner and his cousin Bill who took us out in their fishing dory to see a massive iceberg that was stuck on the ocean floor in 400 feet of water. There were no whales that day but it was an awesome experience just the same.
On a trip to Victoria BC we decided to try to see some Orca or killer whales while we were there. These beautiful animals are one of the most iconic whales in the world and we are lucky to have a few pods living along the BC coast.
We donned our orange survival suits and jumped in the Zodiacs to venture out in search of our black and white friends. Tour operators work together to locate the pods of whales and it wasn’t long before our captain got the call. The next thing we knew we were flying along the water at what felt like break-neck speeds to intercept a group of whales known as “J-pod”. There are many rules and regulations set in place to protect the whales and these are strictly enforced. They detail how to approach the whales, how close you can get and how much noise you can create. We got into position and the Captain cut the engines. As we floated there silently a few other boats joined us. Within minutes, we could see the fins of approaching whales – 38 in all. They were blowing and weaving as they swam along and they moved around us occasionally checking us out and breaching out of the water in fantastic displays. We didn’t know where to look there were so many and some came quite close. We could have stayed there all day just watching but the whales had other ideas and went along their way. We have many memories of this day and I would highly recommend the experience to anyone wanting to see these creatures.
The best place in Canada however to see the biggest variety of whales is in the St Lawrence River near Taddoussac, Quebec. The conditions here are near perfect to support many different species of whales. The water is very deep and very cold where the fresh water of the Saguenay River mingles with the salt ocean water coming into the St Lawrence River. This creates a virtual buffet for whales and other sea life in a unique environment. Whale watching tour companies operate everything from large multi-level boats to small zodiacs for 10 people. By now, our preference to get up close and personal with whales was a zodiac so we booked one for the next morning. When we started out the captain told us that it had not been a great season for whales but he would do his best for us. We were disappointed but resolved to enjoy the experience no matter what. That soon changed when we spotted a fin whale! This was by far the largest whale I have ever seen. We watched it for a bit until it dove deep and headed back out towards the mouth of the river. Our attention was soon drawn to a dozen or so minke whales in a bit of a feeding frenzy. Soon they were all around us, which was a little unnerving in such a small boat, but it was exciting too. You have to remember to stay seated though; in my excitement to take pictures I almost went overboard to join them. As we left them behind to enjoy their dinner the Captain pointed to a white blob off the starboard side of the boat. It was moving with us and we soon realized that it was a beluga whale. Soon there were many belugas around us: babies, juveniles and adults. Baby belugas are grey and turn white as they mature so they are easy to spot. The next day, however, brought me back to where it all started – my bucket list dream of kayaking with whales. We found an ocean kayak outfitter who takes people out on the river to kayak with whales. I am by no means a competent kayaker but you only live once so it wasn’t a hard decision to go. We launched five kayaks into the water and the next thing I knew we were paddling with Harbor Porpoises, which are actually small whales, and we could see the minkes playing not far off.
This trip was exhilarating and something I will never forget. Sometimes you don’t plan for a bucket list item, but if you’re open to new experiences it can just happen. I crossed kayaking with whales off my bucket list but I’ve added lots of new stuff. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.