Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fin Whales in Conception Bay

I left St. Philip's beach for a bit of exercise and a leisurely paddle. Didn't think it to be very interesting, just good sunshine, fresh air and exercise. It was an exceptionally fine fall day. The lower tide today resulted in more exposed rocks and seaweed along the shore. This made for a good excuse to hug tight to the shoreline and have easy play with the small waves. Once at Topsail beach, I discovered that the river from the pond behind the beach was having to travel further and at a greater angle to flow into the ocean. This lead to a rip that travelled 50m out off the beach. Also, wind was from the west opposing the stuff to punch into and hold you in place while ferry gliding from one side to the other. Nothing adrenaline bumping. The LV Nordkapp's spray deck was awash with spilling water the whole time, but still relaxing. Glad I got the WW LevelSix spraydeck after, it's the only thing that keeps this kayaks cockpit semi dry.

Once I turned to travel back I saw a pleasant surprise in the distance. The blow of whales about a 1km out into the tickle towards the south end of Bell Island. Strange to see pods of humpbacks down here this late in the year, unless they are heading back south from way up north. But many of the blows were high, thin and straight up. Could be Fin whales, but I'd need to get closer. I set off for the middle of the tickle. They were still a good distance away when I stopped to watch.
Seabirds over them, and dozens of dolphins in small groups all around them. I saw four whales that I knew to be Fins. There were a couple more whales up the bay feeding nearer to Little Bell island. Could be Fins or Humpbacks. The dolphins were numerous, both Atlantic White Sided dolphins(with yellow patch) and the White Beaked dolphin. Seabirds were around the Fins also. There was plenty of tiny shrimp in the water, but it was more likely schooling fish such as mackerel or the like, as the whale's feeding was erratic and aggressive. They often pushed water sideways as they lunged, rolling over in the water, then sliced their pectoral fin across the surface. As usual, staying a good distance away to watch is best. Where both the seabirds and also where the dolphins are, is the best indication where the whales are. Stay well away from that zone, tap on the kayak deck to alert all of your presence ...and you may have a chance to tell your story to others. Eventually, one Fin whale did swing around from the group and did a close pass by my kayak. Those things are huge. The photo above was the last of only a few photographs(click on any photo to enlarge). In close quarters with so much wildlife, best to stay alert, focused and keep both hands on the paddle. As forecast, the winds were picking up in the evening. I was very far out into the bay, so best to head back. That's when it happened. As I retreated, a few of the dolphins followed suit. I sped up, they zipped in front of the bow. I turned the kayak around again. They sat on the surface waiting until I moved. I charged up the bay and they followed on both sides over my shoulder. I picked a side and high brace turned. They keep going right under my kayak. I righted myself and waited to see what they'd do. Again, they just sat near the surface. With the bit of wind waves at my back, I sprinted back down the bay, they followed. I rode up and over waves as fast as I could, they followed next to me. I carved a turn at the end of my run, and they zipped right under me. They seemed to like that part. I am used to this behavior from dolphins further north along the Labrador coast while traveling with fisherman in speed boats. The dolphins chase the bow of the motorboat at high speed, but then tire of it soon. But what with the speed of the kayak? The LV Nordkapp is fast and I can turn it on a dime, but this is all slow motion to a dolphin. I think it was that I was traveling around that bay and doing quick course changes, but yet my craft was not making any noise. We have so few kayakers, sail boarders and surfers in this part of the world. For many, the season is so short. The dolphins must have seen this silent kayak as something unique, they remained curious for quite a while. Every now and then, I did a hanging draw and leaned out to one side to look down at them. At about six feet under, they would often swim on a side, just to stare back up at me, if only for a moment. Damn, those guys are fast. Finally, the sun was setting. The dolphins seem to be drawing me further away up the bay, back towards the feeding Fin whales. I can't believe they played this game for over an hour...even if a few had traded off from the other pods. I decided to get while the getting was good. Back to the beach before sunset. I passed two Minke whales heading up the bay towards the feeding Fins. We human's do not have a great history of treating dolphins and whales well, although that is changing with time. If one questions my spending 'quality time' maybe too close to such wild animals....I understand. But then again, words fail me, you had to be there. We all seemed to be having fun...please take it up further with the dolphins. What a cool day that was.


Blogger Alison Dyer said...

Jamie, we had one minke at the bottom (head?) of the bay in Chance Cove today. Not use to seeing them this time of year.

10:50 p.m.  
Blogger Alison Dyer said...

Geesh, just finished reading the part about the dolphins. That had to be sublime. I, too, have only had dolphins play at the bow of a motorized boat. Guess that says something about the Nordkapp! You had one helluva day I'd say! A

10:55 p.m.  
Blogger Neil Burgess said...

Jamie, sounds like you had a great time playing with the dolphins. A special moment to remember!

12:10 p.m.  
Blogger Paul said...

Hi Jamie, that sounded way too cool! Funny how when you look for situations like you had they are never there! BTW, I'm sure the dolphins are ok with it!

6:49 p.m.  
Blogger Michael said...

Super day you must have had, Jamie! Lucky you!

9:48 p.m.  

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