A whale of a time!

Parks Canada Youth Ambassadors summer adventure part 2:

 A whale of a time!

By Clara Vuillier-Devillers

2022-2023 Parks Canada Youth Ambassador

As a young kid growing up far away from the ocean in southern Ontario, I distinctly remember my first time seeing a whale. My family and I had gone out east to Nova Scotia for a couple of days to visit some distant relatives. One day during our visit, my parents decided to book us a whale watching tour on a boat near Ingonish, Cape Breton, just outside of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. I remember the boat ride like it was yesterday. It was a cold, bumpy and rainy ride as I clung onto my mom’s side while the boat swayed in the choppy waves. By the time we had reached open water, the rain had seeped through our ponchos and we were soaked from head to toe. Moods were low and spirits were down until all of a sudden, out of the gray misty horizon appeared the dorsal fin of a breaching whale. I must have been around 6 or 7 years old at the time and had never seen an animal so big or majestic! 

This memory of my family and I whale watching together is something I cherish dearly and hope that everyone has the chance to experience in their lifetime. The good news is that Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park offers many opportunities to enjoy a similar experience – and without getting sea-sick! 

Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park is Quebec’s very first National Marine Conservation Area. My fellow two co-ambassadors and I had that wonderful opportunity to visit the park this summer and learn about its rich ecosystem. Check out our video!

The park is very unique as it houses many different areas to observe marine wildlife from the shore, and see whales right up close and personal. There is a network of 21 discovery sites all around the marine park that are easily accessible, providing a variety of excellent viewpoints into the rich marine environment. All these sites are located within the four touristic regions – Lower St. Lawrence, Charlevoix, North Coast and Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean – that surround the marine park. Many sites throughout this discovery network, such as Baie-Sainte-Marguerite, Pointe-Noire and Cap-de-Bon Désir (some of our personal favorite spots), offer breathtaking areas to whale watch from the shoreline. Besides the accessibility and affordability that whale watching from the shore offers, the experience is different and complementary to the sea excursions offered by certified companies. However, it should be noted that regulations exist. Indeed, all boats navigating in the Marine Park must keep a distance of 200 meters from all marine mammals and 400 meters from threatened or endangered species, such as the beluga. On our side, we privileged the observation from the shore and we even had the chance to see seals and whales up close from the first day in the park, even if we had forgotten to bring our binoculars with us that day!

Nearly 2 200 species have been observed in the marine park, including blue whales, humpback whales, minke whales, porpoises, grey seals, harbour seals and more! While many of these species are migratory and only frequent the marine park seasonally, the iconic St. Lawrence beluga whale is a resident species and can be observed year round.

This was all of our first time seeing a beluga whale! Admittedly, we did initially mistake quite a few beluga’s whitecaps with waves. However, the sheer excitement of spotting our first beluga was an unmatched experience that we will never forget.

What makes Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park such a hotspot for marine mammals is the abundance of food it provides. The currents caused by the mix of cold salty water from the Atlantic Ocean and fresh water from the St. Lawrence River, combined with the steep underwater cliffs of the fjord stir up nutrients to the water surface and create the perfect conditions for biological productivity. The nutrients act as a fertilizer for phytoplankton which are at the bottom of the marine food chain. The supply of phytoplankton concentrates the whale’s prey such as krill and fish. It truly is nature’s pantry and an open buffet for whales! 

We had so much fun at Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park and hope that our experiences encourage you to check out this amazing place for yourself, either by boat or from the shore!

For more information on where to whale watch from the shoreline, check out the list of discovery sites!

– Clara

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