Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Whales Are Back!

Diving whales
Each year along the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador, humpback whale sightings are few and far Mallotus villosus) is a vital part of the food web here, and it's responsible for nourishing not just the whales but the area's substantial seabird population, whose breeding season is timed to coincide with the caplin's spawning time. When the caplin arrive in their billions, so do the whales, intent on taking on close to a third of their body weight during the summer feeding season. When they're feeding, they concentrate completely on the task at hand until their principal food source arrives: the caplin (or capelin,

Humpback tail
On a recent trip out of Bay Bulls with Captain Wayne's Marine Excursions we spotted whales in just a few kilometres away from the shore -- a group that were actively feeding. We headed a little closer and stopped for a look. The whales were headed our way, staying at the surface briefly then diving to feed at depth. Several would surface at once, then dive within a few seconds of one another. As a result, there were ample opportunities for great ID shots of the tails' distinctive undersides. (See One Fluke at a Time, a post about humpback identification.)

Caplin after spawning
We spent nearly two hours observing at a respectful distance, on a near-perfect July day. When they neared the surface, the whales' white pectoral fins showed up, appearing green through the sea water. Proprietor Wayne Maloney's uncanny whale sense came through as always, and we were treated to a truly unforgettable experience.Here are a handful of images from our visit. What a day on the water!

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

It's a great year for icebergs!

Waterline of Bay Bulls iceberg
The past few years have been exceptional for iceberg watchers. Hundreds of bergs have made their way down the Labrador Current, drifting south along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. 2016, in particular, has seen an unusually high number of tabular, or flat, icebergs. This isn't actually good news, since it means that increased numbers of icebergs are calving from Greenland's glaciers, but it's brought some impressive viewing for those who are willing to travel for a look at the results. On a mid-June visit to Bay Bulls and the islands of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve with Gatherall's Puffin and Whale Watch, we were treated to some beautiful views of a small berg grounded along the south side of the bay. Although it was overcast, enough sun broke through the clouds to create a beautiful shade of blue near the berg's waterline.

An impressive pinnacle berg near St. Anthony
Finding that June iceberg while exploring the Avalon Peninsula was serendipity; however, near St. Anthony there's a good chance of seeing bergs in July and sometimes even into August. A trip with Northland Discovery Boat Tours is the perfect -- and safe -- way of getting a closer look. On a late June trip we encountered two bergs, one sharply sculpted and the other tabular. There were several others in the distance, including a huge tabular berg that appeared to be close to a kilometre in length. If you're lucky, they'll even manage to net a bit of broken ice from one of the bergs and provide a taste of ice that's over 10,000 years old; it's compacted snow from long before Earth's industrial age, so it's about as pure as it gets!

Pinnacle berg coming into view

Large tabular berg

There's still plenty of time to view icebergs in 2016 -- for the latest in sightings, visit