Whales, Bergs and Lighthouses

Every year, 22 species of whales and dolphins come to Newfoundland and Labrador for peace, quiet, and the odd photo opportunity. Whales can be seen from a grassy knoll on a fine day, from the veranda of a B&B or from a boat where you can view them up close in all their glory. Whatever you choose, you won't be disappointed. This is truly the best place in North America to appreciate whales.

You can see Beluga, Narwhal, Sperm Whale, Pygmy Sperm Whale, Blue Whale, Fin Whale, Sei Whale, Minke Whale, Humpback Whale, Bowhead Whale, Right Whale, Killer Whale, Northern Bottle-Nosed Whale, Sowerby's Beaked Whale, Blainville's Beaked Whale, True's Beaked Whale. But the most common are the Humpback, Minke and Fin, with Beluga and Killer the next most seen. Some are very rare, such as Sowerby's beaked Whale.

There's a very good reason why whales come to Newfoundland: food. The Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current meet and mix over the Grand Banks, a huge continental shelf off Newfoundland that was discovered in the late 15th century when an early explorer, John Cabot, scooped up cod fish in a basket. The food also attracts millions of seabirds, and the Labrador Current carries icebergs south into Newfoundland waters in late spring and early summer. Sometimes you can even see whales, bergs and birds simultaneously in the early summer months.

The humpbacks begin to arrive in late spring when fish begin moving toward the coast, following the caplin, a small fish that comes to shore in the billions to lay eggs in shallow waters. Typically, both caplin and whales are first spotted in southeastern Newfoundland in June in places like Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve.

As the season progresses the caplin move further north into warming waters up the northeast coast of Newfoundland, followed by the whales that stop to feed at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, a major seabird breeding area, then Trinity Bay, Notre Dame Bay in the Twillingate area, and finally, in August and September, they are seen off northern Newfoundland around St. Anthony. And the further north you go, the better the chances are of seeing whales and icebergs at the same time. There are a variety of places to see whales, mainly from boats or kayaks, but also from land. The entire coastline of Newfoundland hosts a variety of whales throughout the year.

The northern tip of Newfoundland where North of 49 Photography will be visiting is strategically located at the mouth of the Strait of Belle Isle. This strait acts as a "conveyor belt" of fish moving between the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean. Many bird and whale species take advantage of this and so spend considerable time around the tip of the Northern Peninsula near L'Anse aux Meadows and Quirpon Island. Humpbacks are very common and favourites of viewers due to their spectacular tail displays.

Our visit to Quirpon Island Lighthouse Inn will find us tuning your hearing to the whoosh of whales surfacing in Lighthouse Cove, The Tickle or right at the lighthouse. The sound of their spray will have you on your feet in a minute; and it might be you who calls “Whales in the Cove!”

Where is the best spot on Quirpon Island? There are vantage points all over:

A whale watching station with floor to ceiling windows is perfect anytime

The helipad is perfect at sunrise and sunset, affording a full view of Iceberg Alley

Everyone finds a favorite rock or outcropping from which to scan the waters

There are even binoculars in the dining room so you won’t miss a move! Hint: Sit on the side of the dining room that allows you to watch for a performance during supper.

Near Cape Anguille Lighthouse Inn, in Newfoundland’s southern waters, on the southwest coast of the island one may find a holidaying Beluga, a rare whale. The massive Blue whale (the largest animal ever to have existed, including dinosaurs) can be found off this corner of the island during parts of the year.

Boats and kayaks offer excellent opportunities to spot the whales from sea level and at North of 49 photo workshop we use both. Our concern, however, rests with the whales and we follow a strict policy of non-interference. While we may come near whales as we explore the coast in kayaks or during our ferry service to the Quirpon Lighthouse Inn, we do not pursue whales and we endeavour to minimize our impact on their feeding and other activities. That said, there are many times when the whale's curiosity will bring them close to us as we watch. The dolphins are another treat for those in kayaks - they will leap over the bow and look you in the eye. Our hydrophone allows you to hear their chatter and calls as you paddle with them.

We have found the ideal spot for viewing is at the Lighthouse itself. As you stand on the rocks, the whales are unaware of your presence and the deep water allows them to come next to you as they chase the capelin and other fish. With the right light you can actually look down through the water and see the Humpbacks as they swim by and feed at your feet. Be prepared to get wet if they blow as they surface a foot from you, just off the rocks. The helipad also gives you a view down the eastern and western sides of the island allowing you to see the whales as they come north to head down the other side of Newfoundland or on up the coast of Labrador.

The new indoor whale watching station that we use allows you to sit inside during inclement weather and continue to enjoy the show. Many days it is quiet enough to read in the station and still hear the whales as they surface. During calm early mornings you can sometimes hear the whales as they blow in the cove. With an alarm clock like this, you may want to be ready to start the day early.

We are here now, but we are headed here in June of 2015... details can be seen here. http://northof49photography.com/newfoundland-and-labrador

Contact me for more information at kevinapepper@outlook.com



Kevin A Pepper

Kevin is a photographer and educator based in Waterloo, Ontario. His first love is photographing nature, regardless of the season or weather condition; the Ontario landscape and its wildlife are his inspiration. But you will also see other styles of photography in his portfolio. From street photography to urban exploration of abandoned buildings and architecture, he loves to capture it all with his camera for his corporate clients and his growing personal portfolio. Kevin’s images have been featured in Canadian Nature Photographer, PHOTONews Canada, Photo Technique Magazine, The London Free Press, The Weather Network, and National Geographic Online. His diverse client list includes the City of Cambridge, Olympus, GORE Mutual, TVO, and African Lion Safari. Kevin also operates “Northof49 Photography”, a company launched in 2012 dedicated to teaching amateur photographers through International and Canadian-based workshops. In the coming year, Kevin will be leading workshops in Iceland, Mongolia, Tanzania, Venezuela, Provence, and numerous destinations across Canada. Website: www.kevinpepperphotography.com