Whale Watching at Digby Neck

Here was the big moment we were waiting for – a zodiac ride out into open sea, in the Digby Neck area where whales abound! Ever since I was young, these huge mammals held a fascination for me, in no small part due to Sir David Attenborough’s excellent documentaries. To think that we could see them with our own eyes – I only hoped that the weather would be good enough to allow us to go out to sea!

Just off the ferry from New Brunswick, we hit the road, driving through the foggy morning down Digby neck, hoping to reach Tiverton in time for the 11.30am ferry, allowing us enough time to leave for whale watching with Captain Tom at 12.30pm. Thankfully, there were no delays on the ferry side of things – we reached Digby a little after 10am and we got to Tiverton just after 11am.

We decided to park the car on this side of the channel between the Digby side of the stretch and the Tiverton stretch since we weren’t planning to go further than Tiverton. This left us with just enough time to head onto the ferry leaving at about quarter past 11 as there was already a queue of cars waiting. It seems like there are always ferry rides at the half hour mark, and when there are enough cars in between the scheduled timings, the ferry goes over too. (ferry fare is $5 for a car and free for pedestrians and bikes, the ride is less than 5 minutes)

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Captain Tom’s whale cruise was easy to find once on the other side, and the staff at the counter had a big book of handwritten names for each departure waiting to be crossed off as each group arrived. There are some snacks sold at the counter and there’s also a small food stand nearer the ferry with more substantial food.

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We had some time before Captain Tom came back with the earlier boat so we walked around a little.

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It was soon time to go! We suited up in huge orange flotation-cold-protecting suits, thankful that there was no sun out as we were all well wrapped up in anticipation of the coming sea wind on the zodiac. They had a couple of waterproof bags for your personal belongings as well as a space in the front of the boat to leave your bags, but other than cameras, you don’t really need much on board. We chose to leave our belongings in the house.

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The zodiac ride out was already a treat – zooming over the inscrutable deep with the wind in your hair and fog all around. I was half expecting to see a giant whale tail rise up in the middle of nowhere – but all we saw for the moment were marine birds soaring alongside us. Suddenly, we were slowing down, Tom explained that there were humpback whales in the area that another zodiac tour had spotted. The policy for whale watching in the Digby area aims to protect the whales’ privacy – no more than two boats at a time, and a distance must be kept from the whales. We saw the other zodiac, and then there they were, the whales!

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The humpbacks in the distance were nonetheless giants – there were two today. After a brief pause at the surface to breathe, they dive back down again and we waited, looking around, wondering where they would next surface!

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As the weather cleared, we could see slightly into the water – and follow the clear spots on the humpbacks’ bodies as they dove. After a while, they took a deep, deep breath – and dived, with a tail flip for good measure, this time for a good 5 to 6 minutes.

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We headed back out into the open sea again, hoping to find another group of humpbacks. This time, it was a mother and child pair – the little one was nonetheless huge and we only knew it was a child because of Tom’s expert eyes.

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Water spout! We stayed and watched them for a while, everyone seemed to carry a childlike delight whenever the whales reappeared after diving, or did a tail flip. Tom answered some of our questions about the whales’ habits – one of the interesting remarks he made was that these whales had never known a world without boats – for them, the boats were as much part of the nature they know as any other marine animal – which was something to think about. There were also a lot of mysteries that we have not solved about the humpback’s life cycle and behavior!

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After a while, another tour arrived, this time a larger boat with more tourists as compared to the cozy zodiac, so we left the mother and child pair. We were rewarded with a friendly seal who bobbed up and down among the waves, his head a round wonder – appearing for a moment on the left of us, and then on the right, staring at us curiously. We also saw a couple of porpoises and dolphins flashing by, but their agility meant that they were almost impossible to capture on camera!

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Our last pod of the day was composed of three humpbacks. Captain Tom explained that humpback whales do not have fixed friend circles, but travel with different individuals as circumstance puts them together. These ones seemed to have come up after a long, long, dive, and were content to just float in the sun and take in deep breaths – giving us the time to take a good last look at them!

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All too soon it was time to head back to shore. The trip had taken a good two-three hours, we were content with what we had seen. One last surprise was waiting for us, though! Yet another seal was sunbathing on the rocks near the Tiverton harbour, having climbed onto the rock when the tide was high, he could make full use of the low tide to perch on his rock, basking lazily in the sun!

There’s something about large mammals that bring out the child in each of us, reminding us of the delight we had when we first learnt about their existence, this time seeing that they really do exist in all their wild, un-caged, glory. Captain Tom’s tour was one of the highlights of our trip in the Canadian Maritimes. I really appreciated that as a marine biologist, he knew a lot about the animals and habitat of the area, and was also consciously choosing to give the whales space and to use environmentally friendly fuels. We had no problem communicating and arranging to reserve the tour, and his staff on site were also very friendly. A must see in the area! Next up, though, Kejimkujik National Park!

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