Whale Watching, Brier Island Nova Scotia

  How do you hunt for Whales when the Bay of Fundy is shrouded in fog?  We found out when we joined Mariner Cruises in Westport for the morning.

 The day began at 5AM for an hour and half drive, and two ferry crossings to Westport on Brier Island.  This island is located off the Digby Neck on the Bay of Fundy.  There was a warm wind blowing, enough to create a heat index warning for the region, and to maintain a solid fog bank over the cold waters of the bay.

Captain Chad, of the tour boat Chad and Sisters Two, navigated into the bay towards shallower shoals where whales prefer to feed.  The whales of the Bay of Fundy migrate here to feed for the summer, before returning to their breeding grounds in the Caribbean.  They spend May to November here eating a ton of food a day.  This is the only feeding they will do, until they return next year.  The shoals in the bay force the plankton and krill higher to the surface, concentrating them, making it easier for the whales to get bigger bites!

We take about forty-five minutes to arrive at these feeding grounds.  Once there, Captain Chad shuts the engines down, and Amy, our Marine Naturalist for the day, explains the process.

While in the fog we saw a “fog bow”, similar to a rainbow but where light is reflected inside of heavy fog

In the fog, we quietly listen for a whale to “blow”.  She describes the sound as an old man blowing his nose.  My kids, grandkids, and even My Bride are laughing right now.  They know too well that sound.

For the next several hours, we stop and quietly listen for fifteen minutes or so before motoring along the shoal for another twenty minutes before repeating the process.

While the fog limits our field of view, we still scan the horizon for any visual sign, usually that of the blow.  For several hours we patiently watch and listen for that “blow”.  Seeing whales on these tours is not guaranteed, despite there being 800 to 1,000 individuals in the area.

 After two and a half hours on the water we heard the telltale sign of a whale breaching the surface.  The crew of the Chad and Sisters Two went to work to locate the whale.  Once they did, we spent nearly an hour following a mother Humpback Whale, and her calf as they traveled through the bay.  

The various tour operators work collaboratively to ensure that all their clients get a quality experience.  Soon we were joined by several other boats to enjoy watching this pair move through the water.

Amy, experienced with over 8 years on the water, took the time to tell us everything about these whales.  As whales can live upwards to seventy years old and are protected internationally, these guides get to know individuals, and their habits.  She explained that the whales are used to seeing these tour boats and know that they are not a threat. 

Several times the mother would display her tail, indicating a deep dive for her.  These dives can last up to 20 minutes, while she leaves her calf on the surface to “play” among the boats.  The calf is curious, but unable make the deep dive.  She leaves it on the surface where she knows it will be safe.

 While whales are the main draw, we also saw a good selection of seabirds, most of which are too fast to capture with a camera.  Puffins, Phalarope’s and Shearwaters are not unusual to see.  Most of these birds are pelagic, spending their entire lives at sea, except to return to specific places to breed.

Another fish we saw as an Ocean Sunfish, or Mola mola.  This is one of the heaviest bone fish in the world.  The specimen we saw weighed around 500 pounds.  There are often taken for sharks, as the display one dorsal fin, rolling onto their side, as they approach the surface.  This one hung around a while so we could take our fill of photos.

Leaving the mother and calf to be enjoyed by the other tours, we returned to port happy with our morning of whale watching.


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