Lessons from Travels: Newfoundland Whales

by Carl Strang

My 2002 vacation trip was a driving tour of Newfoundland. It took three full days of driving to reach the ferry port, then a full day’s ferry trip, to reach that subarctic island. I left my sea kayak at home, but I knew there would be guided tour opportunities. One came at a bay on the eastern side. I spent much of the morning watching humpbacked whales feeding in the bay, and then joined an afternoon tour from Bay Bulls, the harbor town there.

Preparing to launch.

Fortunately I was able to take a single, which gave me more maneuverability and flexibility.

The shore provided a scenic backdrop as we set out.

Our guide was experienced and sensitive to the whales’ needs. He led us into a very slow approach, and kept us from getting too close.

This paddler backed off and the humpback was undisturbed.

Our whale gradually worked out of the harbor, leading us to the more open sea. The enormous animal, seen from water level and close enough to get a good sense of it, provided an indescribable expansion of my understanding of the range and potential of life and evolution.

Out into the north Atlantic.

Our departure from the sheltering bay was not at all frightening on that calm day. After all, the opposite horizon isn’t visible in the Great Lakes, either. In fact, it was more soothing than a Great Lakes paddle. The swells have a longer period, and hence a more slow and relaxing rise and fall.

Another less experienced guide arrived with another group, led them right up to the whale, and the cetacean immediately departed for good. We headed back to explore the coast.

Kittiwakes rested on the cliffs, having completed their nesting season.

There was even a small sea cave.

One of the advantages of kayaks is access to such tight places.

A few days later I took a seabird and whale tour on a large powered boat. The captain, knowing tourists expect to see a whale’s tail lifting, brought us too close for the whale’s comfort.

The kayak tour guide referred to this as waving bye-bye. The whale only lifts its tail like this when bothered, and departing via a deeper dive.

Appreciating the physicality of the ocean, and the immensity of a whale, requires direct experience as close to the water as possible. I advocate the kayak experience. Television, and even the powerboat trip, can’t provide this perspective.

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1 Comment

  1. February 20, 2012 at 7:20 am

    […] with the whales I featured recently, the contrast in size provides perspective on our place. It encourages us to think about how large […]


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