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Whale Watching In Quebec

Posted by Slavito in Montreal + Escapes on 05/Oct/2005
There are two important things I learned from my recent whale-watching trip. One: whales come in all sizes, mostly smaller than you think. And two: whales are not dolphins!

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You might think that the second discovery indicates that I was mildly retarded prior to embarking on the whale-watching trip. This may be only partially accurate: in fact, I knew all my life that whales and dolphins are different species. Yet when a classmate suggested that we go "whale-watching" to Rivière-du-Loup, or more precisely, when I said "yes" to this unusual proposition, the image in my head was that of a grinning dolphin jumping through hoops for the enjoyment of the entire family. And boy was I far off!

Whales: Departure But let's not focus on the quirks of my education and imagination. Clearly, whale watching is an activity that has nothing to do with circus, much less with dolphins doing stupid tricks. If you find yourself in the province of Quebec during the Fall season, you can do what I did - namely, take a 4.5-hour bus ride from Montreal to Rivière-du-Loup (the region where whales come to feed), followed by a 1.5 hour boat ride to the place where dolphins actually congregate. The tour guide will explain the distinctions among different types of whales and this is where the similarly-educated persons will confront their first shocker: whales can be fairly small! In fact, the majority of them are, and no matter what your travel agent said, you are not very likely to witness a mountain rising from the river and capsizing your motorboat (by the way, if you had images like this in your head, do yourself a favor and throw away your "Jaws" DVD).

Whales: Boat

Whilst coping with this disappointing piece of news, you will furthermore learn that whales are not fish but rather mammals, just like we are, and actually, the reason why they need to come to the surface is something other than giving us kicks - they need to breathe! In fact, all you are likely to see is parts of their backs as they gasp for air at the surface level. Bring a camera with a decent lens zoom if you're going to shoot anything.

Beluga Whale My camera can be called professional only by those whose profession has nothing to do with photography - I shoot with a slow-moving Canon S50. The photographs shown here, while absolutely amateurish and only mildly exciting, will still serve a useful purpose, speaking to the effect of how difficult it is to get a good (photographic) shot of a whale, especially if you are an uneducated amateur.

In addition to providing this impressive imagery, I decided to generously share some curious facts that I learned on my 15-hour trip (counting 4.5 hours each way from Montreal to Rivière-du-Loup + 4 hours on the boat + layover and stops). Here we go:

Quick Whale Cheat Sheet:

  • Whales are neither dolphins nor sharks. They will not jump through hoops for you and are equally unlikely to chew your legs off.
  • The biggest kind of whale is the blue whale. It can be a 30-meter (95 feet) monster similar in size to an 8-story multi-apartment building.
  • The smallest adult whales are only 2.6 meters long.
  • In Québec, you are very likely to see Beluga whales which average 4.5 meters (15 feet) in length and weigh about 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds).
  • Although the size of Beluga whales is not exactly mind-blowing, they are fairly easy to spot because of the white color of their skin.
  • Except that Beluga whale youngsters have blue or brownish skin.
  • Beluga whales often congregate in groups (pods), which include from 2 to 25 whales. The bigger the pod the easier it is to spot them (and of course, the merrier).

Your home encyclopedia will provide you with other amazing facts about whales, but I consider my job here done. If you decide to repeat my Québec whale watching experience, have a great trip and don't forget some warm yet water-repellent clothing!

Bon voyage!

P.S. I am not joking about clothing.

Beluga Whale

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