Today dawned with a heavy fog cloaking the area. Looking off from my front deck at the motel I couldn’t see anything beyond the treetops across the street. A quick telephone call to the whale cruise office on Brier Island reassured me that our trip today was still a “go” ~ so GO we did! I picked up Judy and Doc at their campground and we headed for Digby and the provincial road that would take us down the coast to Brier Island.
Digby Neck is a slender finger of land that dangles off the end of Nova Scotia between the Bay of Fundy and St. Mary’s Bay. To reach Brier Island requires two short ferry rides ~ one between Digby Neck and Long Island and one between Long and Brier Islands. Departures are timed so that when you debark the first ferry, you must drive the length of Long Island without stopping in order to catch the second one. We arrived at the first ferry dock 20 minutes early only to find the ferry loading and preparing for departure. They cut off the line just as I prepared to board. I was pretty perturbed until one of the locals in the line behind us told me that they were running extra trips due to high demand and would be back to pick us up for the scheduled 10:30 departure. Whew!
We made the first ferry crossing and arrived at the second departure point with a few minutes to spare. We queued up on the shoulder of the only road in town to wait for boarding and got out to stretch our legs. Judy struck up a conversation with a young man who was driving a diesel-powered pick-up truck. He told her that he lived on the island and had to take the ferry to Brier Island twice a week (2 hours round trip each time) to get fuel because the only gas station on Long Island only sold gas. Brier Island was the only place south of Digby where you could purchase diesel. Oh, the things we take for granted in our urban lives!!
Arriving on Brier Island, we checked into the cruise line office to claim our tickets. Next stop was to a little gift shop on the waterfront that had the only public restrooms in town. After answering nature’s call we browsed the shop. Doc was particularly interested in a sale rack filled with waterproof jackets and pants but none of us purchased any ~ a decision we would come to regret later in the day. As we left the shop to go down to the wharf where we would board the boat it started to sprinkle. No worries ~ we all had rain gear and whales don’t care if it rains.
The ocean tides push nutrient-rich water to the surface where the Bay of Fundy meets the Gulf of Maine off the coast of Brier Island. The constant tidal influx of these nutrients into the Bay of Fundy attracts a wide variety of sea life, including whales, dolphins, porpoises, unusual fish and sea birds. Four species of whales, including the endangered Right Whale, are common to the Bay of Fundy and several other species have been known to visit on occasion. The one seen most often in this area is the Humpback whale.
Our first sightings were many birds ~ sea gulls and puffins. I was surprised to see how small the puffins were. I always thought they were much larger ~ probably fostered by the size of the plush puffins they sell at Sea World and Disney. They are also very bashful and difficult to photograph in the open water in a rainstorm. (That’s your clue that there are no pictures of them in this update). Fun to watch them dart around in the waves, though.
Next we came upon a small black fin sticking out of the water looking rather shark-like but we could see that the body it was attached to had the wrong coloration. Our guide, Penny, informed us that it was an Ocean Sun Fish ~ a strange looking creature that frequents these waters. One of the deck hands passed around a picture of the fish so we could see what the whole thing looked like.
Our next treat was a small group of white-sided dolphins leaping and frolicking in the waves alongside the boat. Shortly after that we came upon our first pair of Humpback whales. At first they were just “logging” in the water, but then one rolled over, raising its pectoral fin in a whale “high 5”. There was some tail slapping, too, and we quickly learned that when the tail came high out of the water, the whale was making a deep dive and it would be awhile before we would see it again. After observing this pair for awhile, the boat moved on to another area. More dolphins showed up, playing in the wake of the boat before racing on ahead.
At our next stop we found a mother Humpback whale with her calf. They were just languishing in the waves, making some shallow dives and feeding. Our guide told us that the calf was very fortunate to have made it to this area. The Humpback whales only come to the North Atlantic in the summer to feed in the plankton-rich water here. They return to the Caribbean to breed and give birth. Travel between the two areas is fraught with danger for the babies due to shark attacks.
By this time we were soaked from the rain and the water that poured over from the upper deck every time the captain turned the boat to get a better view. My pants were drenched from leaning against the side of the boat to take pictures and from the water sloshing back through the drainage holes on the side of the deck. About this time, we were thinking that those waterproof pants back at the gift shop were looking like a really good deal! In spite of our sodden condition, when asked if we wanted to return to port or see more whales, the overwhelming majority voted for whales. After all, once you are 100% saturated, what damage can more water do???
We were really grateful that we elected to stay out when we arrived at our next spot. There were three whales rolling around and playing in the waves. There were already two other boats near the whales so we had to observe discreetly from some distance away at first. The Bay of Fundy whale watch operators have developed a Code of Ethics to govern how they interact with the whales because this area is such an important feeding ground and some of the species (like the Right whale) are very rare. This Code ensures that whale watching boats don’t crowd or harass the whales. For this reason, we had to wait for one of the other boats to pull away before we could move in close. While we were waiting, though, we saw even more whales a short distance away. Suddenly, one of them breached, shooting up out of the water and crashing back down in a giant splash. What a thrilling sight!
After observing the three whales for awhile it was time to head back to the wharf. Fortunately, the rain stopped and the sun played peek-a-boo through the clouds. It was enough to help dry us out so that we were only mildly damp by the time we arrived in port. As we traveled the ferries back to Digby Neck we saw several rainbows as the rain clouds danced around the sunshine. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the East Ferry port, we caught up with the rain and drove in a downpour all the way back to Digby. Nothing could dampen our spirits, though. The trip was a resounding success!!
To view more pictures from today’s trip, visit my on-line web album