Whale Watching Off Brier Island, Nova Scotia
Somewhere on my drive down Digby Neck I decided to go whale watching. I actually don’t know when I decided this, especially since doing an activity like this is fairly unusual for me, but I found myself heading to Brier Island not just to hike and look around, but with intent. And so, I followed signs off the ferry into the tiny (and only) town of Westport and signed up at Brier Island Whale Watching and Seabird Cruises.
Now, I’ve been whale watching a few times off Cape Cod while on vacation as a teenager and so I was expecting a large boat with more than a hundred passengers and a few distant glimpses of whales over the course of four hours. My expectations were wildly, crazily, impossibly exceeded: Our boat was a small converted lobster trawler with a capacity of 45, first of all. And because it was the end of September, there were only 16 of us in addition to 3 (incredibly knowledgeable and nice) guides, not counting our captain, an off-season lobsterman who had been fishing these waters for longer than I’ve been alive. He knew his stuff.
So, off we went, heading into the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, getting incredible views of both Brier and Long Island in the process. And within half an hour of leaving the dock I was looking at whales, plural. With so few people onboard I was able to stay on the fly deck the entire time and never had a bad view. I was utterly captivated watching the first whale – a known friend named Sockeye – swim in towards the boat. He came ridiculously close. And then we moved even closer to a cluster of humpbacks “logging,” or kind of resting on the surface. And then we moved off to another group. I was seriously giddy at this point, especially after witnessing closeup spouting and seeing fluke as some of the whales dove down for feeding. But then suddenly we were on the move again and I was thinking, “But… wait… there are whales right there!!!” As we sped off to another location we saw a lot of distant flippering (where whales raise and slap the water with their flippers) and even a full breach but they all dove down – displaying impressive fluke – as we came closer. And then we came upon another group logging, some of whom lifted their snouts out of the water as we approached. Oh yeah, and somewhere in here we started being followed by a school of leaping White-Sided Atlantic Dolphins and saw a bunch of gannets, which are seabirds that dive up to 20 feet. It was nonstop amazing.
We moved between groups of humpbacks for quite some time until Sockeye found us again. It seems like this whale has a particular love for this boat; he hung around right next to the boat for over a half hour, flippering, spouting, showing us his belly, flipping his tail out of the water, etc. It was crazy. You would swear this whale had been trained. I came down from the fly deck for part of this time and he was literally so close you could touch him – he lifted his flippers out to us and I had to restrain myself from instinctively reaching out to bridge the two feet between us. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you how close he was; my pictures prove it. He was more than close enough to get many of us quite wet during his flippering as well, and his spouting… well, he snotted on us. Multiple times. My hair smelled like raw fish for the next day. IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST AMAZING EXPERIENCES I’VE EVER HAD.
Sockeye finally decided to dive down for some more eats and we moved off again, seeing numerous other flukes as we turned back toward land. And the dolphins rejoined us, leaping as they paralleled us less than 15 feet from the side of the boat. It was fantastic. I really don’t know what else to say. We saw 16 different whales that day, all humpbacks, plus two schools of dolphins and some gannets (and some other seabirds that I saw but I don’t know what they were because wasn’t listening to the guide talk since I was in a conversation with another guide). Again, it was an amazing experience.