WHALE WATCHING WITH A GUARANTEE – IN QUEBEC
By CHANTAL COOKE
Wildlife watching is seldom an experience that comes with any guarantees – but whale watching on the St Lawrence in Quebec is about as close to a cetacean guarantee as you can get.
An area, 1245 square kilometres, reaching from Les Escoumins to south of St Simeon, and including most of the Saguenay Fjord, has been declared a marine protected area as it is such an important feeding ground for whales.
Whale watching operators are licensed and adhere to a strict set of rules regarding speed and distance from the whales. This ensures a better experience for both the whales and the watchers.
There are lots of operators so you can choose to watch the whales from a kayak, a small zodiac or a much larger boat – depending in the level of comfort you require.
During my trip, in mid-September, with Croisières Essipit in a small zodiac we saw belugas, minkes, blue whales and humpbacks. Not bad for two hours on the water.
If you want to get the ‘almost in the water with them’ feel, opt for kayaking. I ventured out with Centre de Vacances Ferme 5 étoiles for an excursion on the Saguenay Fjord – and experienced some whale watching like no other.
Soon after starting out from shore we spotted, in the distance, the distinctive white backs of a pod of belugas whales breaking the water. So we stopped and waited and watched. Slowly the belugas came closer until they were swimming around and under our kayaks. Clearly out for some fun, these beautiful white whales nibbled at our oars and even nudged our kayaks through the water. After about an hour they decided they had had enough and off they went – big wide grins on their faces and their flippers seeming to flap a friendly goodbye.
Although an encounter like this is not guaranteed – it’s not unheard of either. Last year, my guide told me, this had happened around five times. Belugas are friendly creatures, they are not looking at you as prospective food – more likely the young males are sizing you up as a potential mate! And I can’t find a single reported incident of a beluga harming a human – so there is no need to be afraid!
If you’d like to avoid getting on the water at all – then stop off at Centre d’interprétation du Cap-de-Bon-Désir and take a short walk on an easy path through the forest to the look-out point and let the interpreter point out the whales swimming off the coast, or settle yourself down on the rocks with your binoculars and watch the water for the tell-tale signs of a whales fin breaking the surface. Within a few minutes of arriving I’d spotted harbour porpoise and minke whales; all without leaving the land.
Less than 10 minutes away is the Centre de découverte du milieu marin which is well worth stopping at. They have a great exhibition that will teach you a lot about the area, its history and its marine life. You can quiz the knowledgeable staff, watch whales from the balcony, or take a short stroll out to the rocks and watch the water from the comfort of two giant red deck chairs.
Another great place to see the whales is Tadoussac. There are plenty of hotels, restaurants and whale watching operators – and plenty of whales. A stroll down to the water front will give you superb views of minkes feeding in the bay, and the 1km circular walk around the Sentier de la Pointe-de-l’Islet (within the Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay) which is accessible next to Tadoussac wharf or Sentier Le Fjord will afford you some incredible views of both whales and the waterway. Take your camera and a pair of binoculars and allow yourself a couple of hours to enjoy the scenery and the wildlife.
If whale watching is on your bucket list then this area of the St Lawrence in Quebec is well worth visiting. If you come during the summer you are guaranteed to see whales, and you can choose from a variety of ways to experience them – and each will give you a different perspective.
Just remember you need a warm jacket, even in the summer, if you intend to go out on one of the boats, a good pair of walking shoes, a camera and a pair of binoculars. And then you are set to go!
- Centre de Vacances Ferme 5 étoiles
- Croisières Essipit
- Saguenay – St Lawrence Marine Park
- Centre d’interprétation du Cap-de-Bon-Désir
- Centre de découverte du milieu marin
- Québec maritime – encompassing the easternmost tourist regions of the province of Québec, Canada: Bas-Saint-Laurent, Gaspésie, Côte-Nord (Manicouagan and Duplessis) and the Îles de la Madeleine. This site provides useful tourist information.
- Air Canada flies direct from London to Quebec City.
- QuebecOriginal.com for useful Quebec tourist information.
About the Author:
Chantal Cooke is an award winning journalist and broadcaster with a passion for the planet. In 2002 she co-founded the award winning radio station PASSION for the PLANET and in 2009 Chantal was awarded London Leader in Sustainability status. Chantal also runs a successful communications agency – Panpathic Communications.