Whale watching is a seasonal activity with mid-summer to early-autumn giving visitors the best chance of a real life encounter with these giants of the sea: there are more than 30 species inhabiting the waters around Canada’s 200,000 km coastline.
Whether you choose the comfort of a passenger boat, bounce through the waves in a Zodiac inflatable or paddle yourself in a kayak, seeing whales in the ocean is an unforgettable experience.
Even better, climb into a wet suit and snorkel with the Belugas in Hudson Bay or join Humpbacks in the water in Newfoundland. For a unique Blue Planet experience go to Vancouver Island on Canada’s west coast and plunge into the Campbell River. You’ll snorkel with thousands of salmon migrating home to spawn in the Discovery Passage.
Get the Hump – Newfoundland
St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland, is less than five hours flying time from the UK – and then it’s just a 15-minute drive to Petty Harbour. There, you’ll not just see Humpbacks but can also get in the water and snorkel alongside these immense mammals. Another 15 minutes away is Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, home to Fin and Minke whales.
If you’ve only got a long weekend, Newfoundland is close enough to spot the whales and maybe catch icebergs drifting by too, before getting back to work on Monday morning. The season runs from late June to August.
High Tide – Nova Scotia and New Brunswick
Digby Neck is a long peninsula jutting into the Bay of Fundy, where the world’s most extreme tides deliver vast quantities of fish and krill, which is the prime food for hungry whales. Skim the waves in a Zodiac inflatable and get up close to Fin whales, Humpbacks, Pilot whales and perhaps the rare Right whale. Across the bay, the picturesque New Brunswick town of St Andrews offers whale trips in sail boats, rib boats and Zodiacs. The season runs from mid-July to mid-September.
The Big Blue – Québec
Côte-Nord, also known as the Whale Route, runs alongside the St. Lawrence River for 1,250 kms from Tadoussac to Blanc-Sablon and 13 different species of cetaceans are found in the waters where the
estuary meets the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It’s easy to see Humpbacks, Minkes and Belugas from the shore but the sweet spot is Tadoussac, where the Saguenay River meets the St Lawrence.
Here, Blue Whales, the largest animal on earth, at 25m long and weighing 100 tonnes, congregate to feed off the huge supplies of krill. Don warm clothes, climb aboard a Zodiac and get close enough to smell their breath. The season is May to mid-October with August and September peak times for Blue Whales.
Talkin’ Beluga – Manitoba
When the ice melts on Hudson Bay, over 57,000 white Beluga whales arrive in the river estuary near the town of Churchill. They remain here throughout the summer to give birth and to feed on capelin and Lake Cisco fish. Nicknamed “sea canaries” for their strange high-pitched whistles, clicking, chirping and other underwater vocalizations, these playful whales have few natural predators. You can get close in a Zodiac inflatable or paddling a kayak but better to don a thick wet suit and jump in among them. They’re sociable, naturally curious and they’ll also talk to you. Whilst you’re in Churchill, climb aboard a Tundra Buggy and spot polar bears waiting for the ice to form. The season is July and August.
For those clients to Winnipeg who don’t have the time to get out of the city, Canada’s Blue Planet can be glimpsed at Assiniboine Park Conservancy. Here you can see polar bears and seals swimming above from the safety of underwater viewing tunnels.
I am the Walrus – Baffin Island
Fly north from Ottawa to Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, and then onward to Pond Inlet on Baffin Island. Transport across the ice is by Komatik, a wooden sled pulled behind a snowmobile, the traditional means of travel for the Inuit. At the floe edge, where the ice meets the sea, you’ll spot Ringed and possibly Harped and Bearded seals as well as Bowhead whales, weighing up to 100 tonnes. Groups of Walrus can bask in the sun and, if you’re lucky you may even spot Narwhals, with their long spiralled tusks, up to 2m long. The season is May to June.
The Killers – Vancouver Island
In the north of Vancouver Island, the Robson Bight Ecological Preserve is home to Canada’s only Killer whale sanctuary. As many as 200 Orcas gather in this part of the Johnstone Strait each summer to rub themselves on the barnacle-encrusted rocks.
The top predator on the inland-water food chain, they’re attracted by the annual salmon runs that funnel through the strait. Boats depart from Telegraph Cove, tracking them with underwater microphones, as they move fast with speeds up to 40km/h. You may also see Humpbacks as well as other marine life. Season mid-June to October.
Further south on the west coast of the island, spring in Tofino sees 20,000 Grey whales swimming past on their journey from the Baja Peninsula to Alaska. You can spot them from the land, and they’re easily identifiable by the encrusted barnacles on their outsides. Some of them stay for the entire summer in nearby Clayoquot Sound but you’ll have to get on a boat to see them. Humpbacks may also appear and seals and sea lions are plentiful. The season is March to October.
Snorkel – Campbell River
The Campbell River, on Vancouver Island’s east coast, teems with five salmon species migrating to spawn in the Discovery Passage. It’s an epic voyage for hundreds of thousands of Coho, Steelhead, Chum, Chinook and Pink that return, spawn and die in the same waters they were born. Rafts allow easy viewing of the salmon in the crystal-clear waters but for an unforgettable experience, don a wetsuit and snorkel in one of the river pools crammed with thousands of fish. The season is late July to early October.
Where to book it
First Class Holidays – 0161 888 5606
The eight-day Belugas, Bears & Blooms package flies to Winnipeg then onwards to Churchill on Hudson Bay. It includes a three-hour Beluga viewing, one day Tundra Buggy to see polar bears and an afternoon’s dog sledding. Prices start from £3,180pp (not including flights). fcholidays.com
Audley Travel – 01993 838 700
The operator’s 13-day Ultimate New Brunswick Self-Drive travels from Nova Scotia to New Brunswick, explores the Acadian Coast and then goes inland along the Miramichi River. You then spend a few days exploring the Bay of Fundy with four days in St Andrews whale watching, before returning to Halifax. Prices start from £3,270pp including flights.