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Kayaking with Whales in the St. Lawrence River

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I have dreamed of kayaking with beluga whales in the St. Lawrence River for years.

The St. Lawrence River is an incredible place to see a huge diversity of whales – with the beluga whale being just one of 10 whale species that inhabit these waters.

In the toothed whales category the ones you might see include: killer whales, sperm whales, the northern bottlenose whale, long-finned pilot whales, beluga whales, the white-beaked dolphin or white-sided dolphin and harbour porpoises.

In the baleen whale category the species to look for include the blue whale – the largest animal on the planet, fin whales, minke whales, humpback whales and the North Atlantic right whale.

Guess which one I saw?

"Beautiful camping spots where you can watch for whales"

Beautiful camping spots where you can watch for whales

It was a baby blue whale that I saw – though it was off in the distance and so there were no worries about it flipping kayaks – not that that’s a normal occurrence or something I ever even worry about.

I had signed up for an evening tour with Mer et Monde Ecotours out of Les Bergeronnes, a small dot on the map north of Tadoussac on the St. Lawrence River. They have a superb set up if you’re into camping. Prime tent sites sit on the rock with expansive views of the St. Lawrence River. Needless to say you have an excellent chance of seeing whales swim by your campsite from the comfort of your sleeping bag.

"enormous group of kayakers"

I have never been kayaking with so many people at one time before

I wasn’t planning to camp so I showed up just in time to get the safety lecture and get properly attired in a wet suit, booties, paddling jacket and a life jacket. I was a little taken aback at the sheer number of people there to kayak – though granted it was summer time and a perfect evening for it. People were divided into groups – depending on what language you spoke. After a full hour’s orientation we were ready to hit the water – which entailed helping to lift and move kayaks down to the shore – really the hardest part of the evening.

"Waiting for the whales to resurface"

Waiting for the whales to resurface

Over the next three hours we paddled up and down the coast – pausing for long stretches when we heard a blow or saw whales off in the distance. Some kayakers – out of sheer luck – were marvelously situated to take advantage of whales surfacing just feet away. Unfortunately I wasn’t in that group.

"Heading for the rocks where you can find sea urchins"

Heading for the rocks where you can find sea urchins

But it was such a pleasant night to be out – with truly outstanding lighting – that I was happy enough to just enjoy the paddling. And even though we started off as one large group it wasn’t long before we were spread up and down the coast – each group with their own guide – so you never felt like you were on top of each other.

"The blue hour; I'd never seen anything like it before"

The blue hour; I’d never seen anything like it before

"Waiting for action"

Waiting for action

"Incredible drama in the skies"

Incredible drama in the skies

I’d spoken to someone earlier in the day who had done an all day trip with Mer et Monde. She came away raving about the experience because they’d seen so many whales – and many had come very close to her kayak. If I were to do it again I’d allow for a full day and I’d bring a waterproof dry bag so I wouldn’t have to fret about destroying my camera. That’s one thing Mer et Monde didn’t offer – a drybag – which is unfortunate because kayaking near whales for many people is a once in a lifetime experience; I think many people would like to capture that experience. It was quite wavey on the night we were out and so I only pulled my camera out on a couple of occasions – hence the reason for a lack of even a fin shot of a whale.

I still haven’t seen a beluga whale in the wild. Perhaps one day I’ll make it to Churchill, Manitoba and there not only do you see beluga whales but you can snorkel with them too.

Have you ever been kayaking with whales?

Leigh McAdam

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Author Hike Bike Travel

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • I’ve been kayaking, but not with whales. I think it’s cool that you can whale watch from the comfort of your sleeping bag although it would be very cool to have the chance to see them up close!

  • Kayaking with whales sounds incredible, I’m sorry you didn’t get to be right in with a pod – a reason to do this again.

    We got to watch the belugas come up the Turnagain Arm near Anchorage – it was amazing to see them, wave after wave including lots of little ones. They like to surf the tide, so it wouldn’t be a good time to be in the water, but the view from shore is great.

    Note that the new website is sort of up. I have a lot of clean-up to do, but don’t see any reason to post to two blogs, so am making the switch this week.

    • @Cindy Wouldn’t that have been a sight to see in Alaska. I’ve seen a beluga whale in an aquarium and just felt sorry for them. I hadn’t appreciated they were up near Anchorage as well. I’ll be checking out your new website when I’m back from my backpacking trip on Lake Superior.

  • Jess says:

    It’s amazing to think of coming close to a whale in an open kayak! It seems so much less removed then being in a large boat. I haven’t gotten to see live whales up close in the wild – but I am hoping to go to Churchill sometime, for the whales and bears!

  • Wow! I’d love to get that close to whales thought I’d be more afraid of the kayak than the whales! I, too was surprised to see the size of the crowd. We were in Tadoussac a long time ago- it was pretty quiet. We also did a boat trip down the Saguenay from Chicoutimi. It was wonderful!

    • @Billie Good for yo for exploring so much of Canada – and you’re one of the few I know of that has been to the Saguenay area. The kayaking was very easy. It’s tough going in big winds and waves but especially in a 2 person kayak it’s very stable.

  • I’m not sure I’d have the courage for that kind of adventure, but I love reading about your experiences.

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