Whale-watching, (Côte-Nord), © TQ/M.Loiselle

Marine mammals

Québec is one of the few places on Earth where you can see such a wide variety of cetaceans. 13 species in total. They’re here mainly from May to October, attracted by the abundance of food, and the depths of the Gulf and Estuary of St. Lawrence. These are the best months to observe whales in Québec.

Seeing a whale up close and hearing it breathe a few metres away is a unforgettably moving experience—it allows you to appreciate the impressive size, power and sensitivity of this spectacular mammal. No photo can replace the feeling of being near this sea giant, whether it’s by boat or by hiking along the shores of the St. Lawrence.

The largest animal on our planet, the blue whale, frequents these waters, as do fin whales, minke whales and humpback whales. In addition to these giants, it’s possible to spot harbour porpoises, dolphins, and belugas—the small, endangered white whales that live in the St. Lawrence year-round. 

It’s also common to see other marine mammals, including four species of seal, in the Gulf and Estuary.

Many companies offer whale watching cruises, either in the waters of the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park or in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the Gaspésie. Different types of motorized boats can bring you close to the whales, while adhering to the regulations imposed to preserve the species, as defined in the tab, Whale Watching Regulations.

The Zodiac is a fast, agile and solid inflatable boat that can only accommodate small groups at a time, providing you with an up-close-and-personal experience with the mammals you come across.

Cruise ships are medium-to-large boats that offer conveniences such as washrooms and better protection in less than ideal weather. On board, you have the opportunity to see the mammals up close—and spot those that are further away, as well. It goes without saying that this is a different kind of experience that’s better suited to those who have their sea legs.

There are also several other types of experiences available, such as by seaplane or helicopter.

Directory of whale watching cruise companies

Whale-watching, Manicouagan (Côte-Nord), © TQ/B.Cecile
Baleine, Manicouagan (Côte-Nord), © TQ/M.Loiselle
© Croisières AML

In eastern Québec, there are several places where you can see whales right from the shore, particularly around the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park. The Cap de Bon-Désir Interpretation and Observation Centre in Les Bergeronnes, the Marine Environment Discovery Centre in Les Escoumins, and the Pointe de l’Islet in Tadoussac are just a few examples. The Whale Route is a scenic highway marked by blue signs that line Route 138 from Tadoussac to Kegaska. They point to various sites where you can watch whales from shore.

Baie de Tadoussac is also a great place to observe minke whales. And if you kayak along the nearby Saguenay River, there’s a good chance you’ll come across some smiling belugas!

© TQ/M.Loiselle
© TQ/M.Loiselle
© TQ/M.Loiselle

Whether you’re in Bas-Saint-Laurent, the Charlevoix, on the North Shore or in Gaspésie, there are many opportunities to observe whales by sea kayak. These one-of-a-kind experiences allow you to be in perfect harmony with the salt air of the St. Lawrence and its surroundings—there’s truly nothing else like it!

Accompanied by an experienced guide, you can paddle alongside species such as humpback whales, fin whales and minke whales. Depending on where you go, it may also be possible to observe harbour porpoises or white-sided dolphins. The marine fauna of the Gulf and Estuary of St. Lawrence offers you the unique opportunity to kayak among some of these sea giants!

The Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park area is one of the most popular places for this kind of wildlife observation. In Bergeronnes, rocky escarpments offer platforms for camping. With a front-row seat, the view of the river and the whales is spectacular. What could be better than being lulled to sleep by the sound of whales?

Further east, at the foot of the majestic rocky shores of the Gaspé Peninsula, the Gulf of St. Lawrence is also home to whales. Companies offer kayak tours in this area. Plus, you’re likely to meet some curious seals along the way!

 

Directory of adventure and outdoor tourism companies offering whale tours

© TQ/B.Cecile
© TQ/B.Cecile
© TQ/M.Loiselle

Approaching whales in an eco-friendly manner

Marine mammals are sensitive to boat engine noise, regardless of size. Captains, guides, and anyone else responsible for marine mammal watching activities must adhere to a very strict code in order to preserve the animals’s health and well-being.

For example, depending on the size and type, both big and small boats (kayaks) must:

• For endangered or threatened marine mammals, such as belugas and blue whales, a distance of at least 400 metres must be maintained between the boat and the animal. A boat can come within 200 metres of a cetacean that is not endangered or threatened.

* The Alliance éco-baleine is a group of whale watching companies and guides whose mission is to limit the impact on the environment and to ensure the sustainable development of whale watching activities in the Marine Park.