Newfoundland offers some of the best opportunities in the world for whale watching, with thousands of visitors flocking to the province each year to see these incredible creatures in action. Most whales migrate between the months of May to September, making it the best time to go whale watching in Newfoundland. The peak season running from mid-July to mid-August. Here is everything you need to know about this amazing wildlife experience.
The Best Spots for Whale Watching in Newfoundland
While it’s possible to see whales almost anywhere along the coast of Newfoundland, there are certain places that get more whale activity than others. Fortunately, no matter where you are staying, you needn’t travel too far to find a whale watching hotspot.
Almost completely surrounded by water, the Avalon Peninsula is a great place to go whale watching in Newfoundland. Popular areas include Signal Hill, Cape Spear, Witless Bay, Cape Race, St. Vincent’s Beach, and Cape St. Mary’s.
Whale watching opportunities here are focused mainly on the northeastern part of the island. Trinity and Bonavista both offer dedicated whale watching boat and kayak tours.
Twillingate is the best place to spot whales in central Newfoundland and also a great location for finding icebergs. If you time it right, you can easily tie the two together in one excursion.
Western and Northern Newfoundland
The long stretch of coastline to the west of Newfoundland boasts several whale watching hot spots, including White Bay, St Anthony, and Bonne Bay.
Ways To Watch
Thanks to the large numbers of whales along the coast of Newfoundland, there are a number of ways to catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures, even from dry land.
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A boat tour is the most popular choice for whale watching in Newfoundland. The trips vary in boat type, duration, and number of participants, meaning that you are sure to find an excursion that will suit your group. Going out in a RIB will get you much closer to the whales than a larger vessel. It might also cover a larger area. Larger boats like catamarans, on the other hand, can allow you to spot whales from a greater distance and allow for a more comfortable trip.
Whales are curious mammals by nature and will often swim up close to the boats, making for a truly memorable experience from your trip to Newfoundland. Many of the tour operators have years of experience, using their extensive knowledge of the waters to maximize your chances of encountering a whale.
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More experienced outdoorsmen might like to take a kayak out to sea instead, where you can encounter whales in their natural environment. Ocean kayak operators will guide you to where you can admire the whale from a safe distance. If you’re visiting in late May or early June, you may be lucky enough to spot an iceberg making its way down from the Arctic.
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You needn’t head out to sea to enjoy whale watching in Newfoundland. That’s why it’s one of the most accessible places in the world to see them. There are plenty of walking and hiking trails along the coast where you can spot whales breaching the waters.
You can see up to an incredible 22 different species of whale off the coast of Newfoundland. This includes the world’s largest population of humpbacks. Here are some of the most common whales to be found along the shores.
Thanks to their numbers, humpbacks are perhaps the most commonly seen whales in Newfoundland. They will often travel close to the cliffs in pursuit of their favourite fish, allowing these gentle giants to be seen from land. Among the most social, curious and acrobatic of the whale species, they enjoy checking out the visiting boats. Often, they’ll put on an impressive display as they leap and crash through the waves.
Frequently spotted in the bays of Newfoundland in summer and early fall, minke whales are smaller, more solitary creatures that spend little time on the surface. You can generally see minke whales in summer and early fall. You can catch a brief glimpse before they stay underwater for 15-20 minutes at a time. Unlike some of the other whales, minke don’t show their tails when they dive. Instead they offer views of their backs and dorsal fins.
The second largest species on earth behind the blue whale, finback or fin whales don’t always come close to the shore. However, when they do, it is truly a sight to behold. Hard to miss due to their substantial size, these whales travel in packs of up to eight members.
Also known as the pothead whale (thanks to the shape of its head), the pilot whale travels in large groups of between 20 to 100. With quite an appetite, they feast primarily on squid and large fish. These whales can be seen in most parts of the island during late summer.
It’s not easy to predict a sighting of a pack of orcas, or killer whales, who are only occasional visitors to the waters of Newfoundland. But with minke whales among their favourite prey, they can sometimes be seen while looking for their next meal. Instantly recognizable thanks to their black and white colouring, and encounter with a killer whale is very special indeed.
Known locally as ‘squid jumpers’ or just plain ‘jumpers’, there is a large population of white-sided dolphins in the waters surrounding the island. These curious creatures are characterized by their distinctive markings, and are known for being incredibly social and playful. If you are lucky enough to spot a group on your boat trip they might even choose to travel alongside you. They’ll use the pressure of the waves to propel them forward. Along with the white-sided variety, the white-beaked and common dolphin are also frequently sighted.
Though there are many other whale species to see in Newfoundland, sightings of these are much rarer. While it’s quite possible to see sperm whales, they are much more commonly found offshore as opposed to near the coastline. Even then. you might miss out – these whales can hold their breath for up to an impressive 90 minutes. Your best chance to see sperm whales is to head to the deep waters of Trinity Bay or Placentia Bay.
Even rarer is the chance to see a blue whale, the largest animal known to have ever existed. The blue whale can be seen alone, or in groups of two or three. On the rare occasion they are spotted, it is usually along the south and southwest coast of the island during early spring.
What to Expect when Whale Watching in Newfoundland
Though whale sightings are never guaranteed, chances are incredibly high should you go whale watching in Newfoundland. With 5000 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline, it’s easy to see why. Sometimes the whales will come and interact, but at other times you may see just a short, fleeting glimpse. Interaction is entirely up to the whales, with the purpose of a whale watching trip to merely observe at a respectful distance and admire these elegant mammals in their natural habitat.
Knowledgeable guides can make or break your whale watching experience. Fortunately, there are many established tour companies around the province that come highly recommended by tourists and locals alike. Tours can get booked up fast, so do your research before you arrive to determine which type of tour and company will best meet your needs.
Just as whales cannot be guaranteed, neither can the weather. Most tours will run come rain or shine, but if sea conditions are looking rough, there’s always a chance your trip could be cancelled. If that happens, almost all whale watching companies will offer to reschedule or refund you. It’s also worth bearing in mind that conditions out at sea can vary greatly from those at the shore. If you’re prone to motion sickness, come prepared with some anti-nausea medication. Also, be sure to dress in layers along with appropriate footwear. Then simply sit back, relax, and enjoy the experience of these magical creatures in the waters of Newfoundland. On many boat tours, you can even drink some Newfoundland-exclusive beer.