Whales, Whales Everywhere
As promised when I wrote about laid-back town of Tadoussac, which nestles on the edge of the huge St Lawrence river in Quebec, here’s the lowdown on looking for whales of all kinds in the waters around the town. Apparently, if you’re lucky enough, you can just look in any direction towards the river or the Saguenay fjord, and you can find them floating around. I did try that method, and had luck with it to see lots of Beluga whales, but I’ll tell you about that a bit further down the post. To see the big guys, we didn’t have time to spend hours gazing out to sea, so we went for a ride in a not too small boat to go and search them out.
To Go Or Not To Go? That is the question.
When we got to Tadoussac, we weren’t even sure if it would be worth going out. After all, you could pay all that money and maybe no whales would turn up, though our fears about the lack of whales were allayed a bit when we discovered that you can pretty much guarantee to see whales of all kinds from May to September. You do have to be aware that it can be foggy at any time of the year there as the water is go incredibly cold, so you may go out on your booked boat tour, only to spend the time trying to find your hand in front of your face.
The tours that leave from the port in the town seemed awfully expensive, especially for a family of four. We hummed and haahed for a while, then my husband discovered the whale-viewing answer! He found out that if you drive about twenty minutes up the coast to a place called Grandes-Bergeronnes, you can go out with a company called Croisières Essipit for much cheaper. The whale-watching company is owned and operated by the First Nations people (the Innu) from the village of Essipit, just a bit further up the road. Not only that, but you leave the coast from nearer to where the whale action happens, so there is less time spent traveling to see the whales and more time spent actually watching them. We decided to take an afternoon tour to try to avoid the possibility of morning fog. As the kind woman on the desk told us, after she had recovered from laughing at us for thinking that the whales are more active in the morning, the whales have to breathe day and night so they are always active. The time of the day doesn’t matter one bit. So, now you know, so you won’t look as silly as we did.
Dancing whales and cold, cold water
We donned bulky survival suits, fleece hats, gloves, and life-jackets to go for our trip. The water is a balmy 4 degrees C, even in the middle of Summer, so it’s not something you want to fall into. If you go, make sure you have some really warm clothing to wear under the waterproof coats and pants. The temperature if fabulous for the whales and seals, but not so great for humans. We saw mammals galore: fin whales (the second largest in the world after the blue whale), minke whales, lots of inquisitive seals, and our absolute favourite, a very agile humpback whale called Tic-Tac-Toe . Tic-Tac-Toe sacrificed about 20 minutes of her eating time to dance for us. She flipped her flukes in the air, rolled over and over on top of the water, and as a grand finale, swam along upside-down, slapping her tail on the water. It’s easy to forget the cold when you can watch something like that! The only whale we missed was the blue whale. Apparently there’s one that comes and goes, but she didn’t happen to be in the St Lawrence when we were there.
A calmer whale-watching jaunt
For a calmer approach that didn’t involve freezing cold water and survival suits, the next day we headed over to the Saguenay Fjord, to see a different species of whale: the white beluga. The fjord is part of a National Park, which would be worth going to even if there were no whales around. We hiked out to a viewing platform that stands on the edge of the Baie-Sainte-Marguerite, and with binoculars (make sure you take some with you if you go), were able to watch a pod of Beluga whales pootling around in the fjord.
Use your imagination
Those are the white dots in the bay that you can see below if you look very carefully! Apparently, the pod has recently adopted a stray narwhal (those are the grey ones with the horns that normally live up in the Arctic). Nobody’s quite sure how it got there, but the beluga pod seems quite happy to have it along for the ride. The belugas came to the fjord during the last Ice Age and then never left, so they’re definitely there for the long haul.
Building dams to the tune of moaning
The water is much warmer in the fjord than out in the Saint Lawrence River, so the kids had hours of fun building dams to try to stop the encroaching tide, and turning large pieces of driftwood into boats; all to the tune of the moaning beluga whales swimming around just off the beach.
By Lisa Watson