“Marine biologist!” seems like one of the top three jobs that comes up when you ask a kid what they want to be (behind fashionista and rich, perhaps). While I never had this on my job list as a kid, now as the mother of a budding one, I can see the appeal. The ocean is a vast world unlike anything we experience on land. When you stand on a beach, you can see only the upper rungs of this marine existence. Its as if you are looking down on clouds, with only glimpses of the land below. When the creatures of this sphere pop up, they tease us. We are enticed to learn more.
A few years ago, in the clear waters of the Mediterranean, my daughter became excited by the sharks visible in the sparkling water. Last summer, she became focused on mammalian sea life. In doing a little research, I learned that we are a couple days away from the mecca for whale watchers, in Saguenay, Quebec. This marine national park has deep waters, where Atlantic and St. Lawrence River combine, is teeming with whales of all kinds. It sort of felt like all the different whales were hanging out at a party, putting up with the pesky grey seals, and every one in a while, peaking out of the party to show us how fun it is down there.
But, after all of the planning to go see the whales, we learned some tips that can make your family visit to Saguenay successful. (And, these tips will help with any trip to see whales.)
We spent a great deal of time on land watching whales. These were wonderful in that you were still, and the whales traveled by. This helped us see a great variety of whales and dolphins, including Sperm, Blue, Beluga, Minke and Fin. We particularly enjoyed Le Centre de découverte du milieu marin at Les Escoumins, but we also liked the land site at Tadoussac. But, we also took a whale watching boat. This was nice because you are moving along with the whales. So, in this instance, you are getting to see behavior.
1. Be patient: We are visiting the whales, not vice versa. They are not on your timeline. We had a couple times when one of the four of us would turn away from the water, and then low and behold the whale would would breech.
2. Do the boat trip: The boat trips can be costly. And, if you are prone to sea-sickness, they are truly nauseating. Even with those caveats, each time I have done one, I have had wonderful experiences. The whales seem used to the boats, and are comfortable being themselves around these iron-fish. Also, we researched our crosier to make sure we went on one that ways animal and environmentally-friendly. Avoid a sketchy outfit! Also, if you need to mitigate seasickness, stay outside in the wind, and don’t play on your phone.
3. Watch rather than photograph: This one is really hard for me. You are so excited to see these creatures and your brain is full of photograph ideas. But, try your absolute hardest to just look. Unless you have rocking photo gear, you eyes or drawings will be better than the photos. Plus, you will miss out on the moment. Said differently, perfect whale pictures take time; so if your time is short, focus on just enjoying the whales.
4. Dress in layers: There were times when we were sitting in the sun, and we were very warm. Other times, we were freezing, not just on the boat, but also on land. The whales don’t care how you look, so go layered!
5. Try different times of day: This seems obvious, but I hadn’t read it on any of the whale planning sites. Whales are individuals, moving freely, when they want to. I imagined that they would be busy in the morning, like so many animals. But, one of the staff members at Saguenay marine park told me something so useful. Just as my husband and I keep different times, each whale is individualized in their behaviors. So, try different times so you can see different whales.