I am on a 3-hour Tadoussac whale watching tour on a cold Monday in May. For years I have imagined going whale watching. Didn’t know where or when, simply that it had to happen. So here I am searching for whales breaching, whales dotting the horizon, whale tails…anything and everything whale.
“I’m not leaving until I see whales,” I have told my travel companions on a Tadoussac whale watching tour. At the start of the day after a home cooked breakfast in Auberge La Sainte Paix, a bed and breakfast where we stayed overnight, I warned the three travel bloggers with me that I would not leave Tadoussac until I saw whales with my own eyes in Quebec Maritime. One of my GOOD friends has warned me: “Well, I will leave without you.”
But I am committed. Last night we drove to Tadoussac after a conference in Quebec City. We have a 6-day tour of Quebec Maritime and Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean planned. So we left the city around 3 p.m. and drove for three hours until we hit the Tadoussac-Baie-Sainte-Catherine Ferry. It’s a short, cold ferry ride across the bay and here we are. Dinner at La Galouine is a hint of what is to come. The seafood. OH boy. Geek Life’s Aeryn Lynne and I both order something called a Seafood Cocotte. It’s fresh seafood cooked in a rich broth and served in a pretty ceramic dish. Divine.
The next morning we are up and ready for adventures. The friendly owner of the Auberge La Sainte Paix says it’s possible to see beluga whales right from the window overlooking the bay. “We’ve already seen one this morning.” Encouraging, I think, scrutinizing the water for whales and failing to see anything but waves and the occasional bird.
Tadoussac is such a tiny spot on the Côte-Nord Region of Quebec Maritime. It’s basically at the intersection of Charlevoix and Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean and yet it is well known for its beluga whales. It is on the Whale Trail. People come from all over to do the Tadoussac whale watching cruise and stay in the area. Many visitors here are European, and often from the French speaking countries. In fact at breakfast we are seated with a pair of tourists from France.
We check out and take a quick walk around through Tadoussac village before heading to the CIMM (Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre)
Inside the CIMM, Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre we meet Melanie, a naturalist who shares beluga facts with us. Belugas stay all year long on the St Lawrence River. They have been an endangered species since 2017. Thirteen different species of whales call the Quebec Maritime, Tadoussac area home. 13!!
Today the population of belugas here in this bay is around 900. In 1940 the population started to decline dramatically. A red tide in 2008 impacted all marine fauna, but the impact of that is normally limited, she says. Many other possible contributing factors exist. Climate change is likely a big factor and when winters are not as cold as usual, the barrier that ice usually affords beluga whales is less protective. Pollution, traffic, change of diet are all thought to be contributing factors to their decline.
A few other random beluga facts.
- Mates that are together will stay for life.
- CIMM uses drones and hydrophones currently to study sound pollution and its impact on beluga whales.
- Each beluga has its own signature – it’s the first thing the moms teach their young
- Baby belugas babble like our babies do and they are born in July/August.
After learning about belugas and other whales too I advise Melanie I’ve never seen a whale or been on a whale watching tour. I am reasonably sure I will see one on the Quebec Maritime Tadoussac whale watching tour we are going on with Croisieres AML. But, as I am standing at the window of the building trying to keep warm, Melanie spies a beluga and points it out. A bright white flash and then it’s gone, but it’s clearly a beluga and I practically jump up and down. MY first ever whale spotting in its natural environment. Brilliant!
That one sighting could have almost been enough for me actually. But after leaving CIMM we drive to Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park for more. We spend a bit of time exploring the area, taking photos. Then we hike the beautiful Pointe de L’Islet Trail in Tadoussac village, before the boat boards for our 1 p.m. Tadoussac Quebec whale watching cruise and off we go.
All whale watching tours and boats are required to stay a specific distance away from whales and wildlife. Ours is no different. A naturalist is on board directing the crowd and describing what we are seeing once we finally get to an area where whales are commonly nearby. Then we sit and wait.
There’s a good deal of waiting and watching, camera at the ready when whale watching and it sure is cold. Grateful we have mittens and hats, scarves and multiple layers of jackets and sweaters on today. So dress warmly if you plan to do this amazing cruise.
What’s the Weather Like in Tadoussac?
Tadoussac weather in May can vary from hovering just a bit above zero Celsius to highs of 20 degrees Celsius by end of the month. BUT, it fluctuates quite a bit. June weather in Tadoussac, Quebec is a bit more reliable at an average of 17 – 20 Celsius much of the month and can be as high as 26 Celsius towards end of the month. July and August are warm with highs on average of 23 Celsius and lows around 11 C at night. September begins to get quite a bit colder at night.
What Can I Expect?
The boat stops and we listen and watch closely. Our guide tells us 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock and we scramble to the sides of the boat for a glimpse. Now I know what to look for and when the sun hits the waves I spy many flashes of white belugas throughout the afternoon. They are small but distinct.
About an hour later we see a MINKY whale breaching. Every time someone notices one they point: “Over there.” In my excitement I find later many of my shots are out of focus. I get a few belugas in the distance but the minkys are blurry on camera. It’s more than enough to see them with your own eyes. In total I have spied 2 or 3 minky whales and multiple belugas on the tour.
After a zodiac boat passes by we see more Minkys not too far off from the contrasting orange boat. And then we head through the Saguenay Fjord, which is a real treat. The Saguenay Fjord was created billions of years ago. Passing through the fjord we spy harp seals sunning themselves on rocks and this time my camera is fast enough and focused.
By the time the day ends I have seen about eight whales; belugas and minkys and I am thrilled. A good friend and travel blogger Margarita Ibbott of DownshiftingPro has done this tour in July and tells me you can see an even wider variety then.
The cold fresh water of the Saguenay combines with the salty water of the St. Lawrence to create a rich environment for marine mammals. The area is also rich in krill so whales love that. That’s just part of the reason this area of Quebec is famous for the whale watching tours.
At the end of our three hour boat tour I’m pretty sure I was beaming ear to ear. Tadoussac whale watching is an epic, breathtaking, educational way to spend a day and so worth sharing with friends Margarita Ibbott, Aeryn Lynne and Vanessa Chiasson. Make the trip preferably in the summer months and enjoy this gorgeous rural spot, coupled with the Tadoussac whale watching tour.
Random Fun Fact:
The historic Hotel Tadoussac is where Hotel New Hampshire was filmed. Based on the John Irving novel. Tadoussac is largely bed and breakfasts and similar stays, so if you want to stay in a traditional hotel stay here open mid May to end of October.
If you are there at the right time in Tadoussac you should also look into taking a sea plane tour over the fjord.
How Can I Duplicate This Trip?
Book a stay at the Auberge Saint Paix by visiting this link. FYI this bed and breakfast received the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence.
Book the Croisieres AML Tadoussac Whale Watching tour now.
We were guests of Quebec Maritime while visiting and as such received accommodations, food and attractions in consideration of a post here. This post also contains affiliate links as a service to my readers.