O Canada: part five – Whales

One of the first things we did upon arrival in Cape Breton was head out on a zodiac whale watching tour in an area called Pleasant Bay.

This is quickly becoming my favourite tradition in Nova Scotia, since this was now our second time going out on such a tour. There are two types of whale watching tours: the regular tour takes you out on a fishing boat and boasts a slightly easier ride but doesn’t get as close to the action. On the other hand, zodiacs are basically inflatable rafts with benches, so you just hold on and hope you don’t go flying off as you skim across the water. But you also get right up close to the whale pods, since the craft isn’t as intrusive or dangerous. Oh, and it’s lots of fun!

The day we went out was quite clear, and we were expecting a fairly smooth trip. Out on the water was another story – although the waves didn’t appear very large, once you’re travelling over them at 30 knots (I’m totally guessing at the speed here… how the heck do you calculate knots anyway?), waves even a foot or two high were sending the zodiac flying.

We headed out with a group of about ten (B and I, plus his brother and wife and a few other vacationers), first sailing straight out about 5 miles off the coast. We didn’t have much luck there, and frankly I couldn’t tell the difference between a whale and a wave anyway, so I was never sure whether to be continually excited or continually disappointed. Luckily a sister ship soon radioed in the whales’ location closer to shore, so off we went.

We first spotted the whales breaching right next to the other boat, a group of what looked like about 20 pilot whales. The captain pulled us in a bit closer to their path and we waited for them to swim in our direction. A few minutes later, they appeared. It was a group of mostly cows and babies, and there must have been at least 50 of them! They swam right up next to us in little groups of 3 or 4, babies alongside. I probably could have touched one or two of them, they were so close. I had to fight the urge to just jump in there and grab on for a ride! The pod seemed to be swimming around and feeding in the area, so they weren’t in a rush to leave. We followed them for at least 20 minutes, watching them dive deep and then surface a hundred meters away then return to us. It was magical.

Here are a few (rather shaky) videos!

Eventually we let them move on and we started back to the marina. The return trip was into the wind, so as you can imagine, the waves were quite a bit rougher on us! We were getting air of at least 2 metres at times, which was exhilarating and little bit painful… But the chorus of groans from us travellers just made it hilarious, and we were all killing ourselves laughing as we all got soaked and slammed around on the waves.

The ride back followed the coastline, where we caught glimpses of a few seals and a lot of majestic cliffs and wilderness. We tried to take pictures, but they all turned out crooked!

All in all, it was great, and I can’t wait to do it again next time.


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