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Whale Watching in Nova Scotia, Canada

Updated on September 10, 2012
Bay of Fundy Eco Zones
Bay of Fundy Eco Zones

Most people who visit Nova Scotia go whale watching in Cape Breton. However, this is not the best whale watching Nova Scotia has to offer. Let me tell you about a better spot: the Bay of Fundy aquarium ecozone.

The Bay of Fundy is of course best known for it’s highest tides in the world. These tides stir up all kinds of goodness from the bottom, creating a seasonal feeding frenzie. This is what brings a great variety of whales here with good viewing opportunities.

For the best whale watching Nova Scotia has to offer, Digby Neck, Long Island and Brier Island in Southwestern Nova Scotia is the area to be. It is considered part of the Bay of Fundy aquarium ecozone, the area of the Bay of Fundy ideal for many species of marine life. On the New Brunswick side the aquarium ecozone of the Bay of Fundy includes Grand Manan, Saint Andrews, Deer Island and Campobello Island, making these the best places in New Brunswick for whale watching tours.

A humpback whale in the Bay of Fundy
A humpback whale in the Bay of Fundy

Best time for whale watching

Whale Watching season starts up in May and runs through to October. Finback whales and minke whales are usually the first to be sighted. By late May to early June the humpback whales and white-sided dolphins have returned as well. By July all whale species will have arrived. The best time for whale watching in the Bay of Fundy is usually anywhere from half June through to late September. By October, although the whales are still there, weather starts to change and seas get a bit rougher. Visitor numbers also start to thin out, creating a challenge for whale watching companies to fill up their boats with passengers to a viable level. Companies with smaller boats (usually zodiacs) will offer you a better chance to still go out at this point.

Bay of Fundy Whale Species

The most commonly sighted whales in the Bay of Fundy are the humpback whale, minke whale and finback whale. Furthermore you have a chance to see the north atlantic right whale, white-sided dolphins, sei whales and pilot whales. If you are lucky you could also see blue whales, sperm whales, orca’s, or beluga whales.

Humpback whale
Humpback whale

Humpback whale

The most commonly viewed whale in the Bay of Fundy is the humpback whale. At about 16 meters long (52 feet) these whales can be seen playfully breaching out of the water, lunge feeding, or spyhopping beside the boat. They are called “clowns of the sea” for good reason. The females tend to be slightly larger than the males, the largest female humpback whale ever recorded was 19 metres (62 ft) long.

Minke whale
Minke whale

Minke Whales

Minke whales, the smallest baleen whale at about 9 meters in length (30 feet), is another regular in the Bay of Fundy. Their life span is typically 30 to 50 years, although there are records of minke whales living up to 60 years. Younger minke whales tend to be inquisitive and will engage in “human watching”, however older minke whales usually show little interest and will simply continue whatever they are doing.

Finback whale
Finback whale

Finback Whale

Finback whales are the second largest animal on earth at up to 24 meters (80 feet) long. Only the blue whale is larger. These whales can live up to 100 years and are know to be fast travelers. They can travel as fast as 40 kilometers an hour. You will often see these whales alone or as mother-calf pair in the Bay of Fundy, although they usually travel in small pods of up to 6 or 7 whales.

Northern Right Whale
Northern Right Whale

Northern Right Whale

These whales are some of the rarest whales on the planet. Only about 450 remain worldwide, with the last decade showing a heart-warming recovery rate of about 2% per year. In summer they come to the Bay of Fundy to mate and feed. Right whales were actively hunted in the past, as they float when killed and tend to stay close to shore. They will usually avoid deep open waters. They also tend to be docile and do not shy away from boats. Nowadays these character traits make them a special treat to watch.

Other Marine Life

The Bay of Fundy aquarium ecozone is also home to several shark species, including basking sharks, spiny dogfish, porbeagle sharks, great white sharks and mako’s. Other marine life sighted include harbour, grey and hooded seals as well as leatherback turtles, harbor porpoises and ocean sunfish (or “mola mola”). Seals, porpoises and basking sharks, recognized by their fin coming above water, can at times be spotted right from shore.

Bird Watcher's Paradise

I cannot possibly finish without mentioning the bird watching in the Bay of Fundy area. The Bay of Fundy aquarium eco-zone is also on the migration route of many species of birds. Atlantic puffins, terns and razor bills make their seasonal home on Machias Seal Island 10 miles off the coast of Grand Manan. They can often be seen on the open ocean when going out with any of the whale watching tours. Ospreys, bald eagles and turkey vultures are often spotted as well. Brier Island is known to be an exceptional spot for bird watching with over 170 species spotted, including rarities such as cattle egret, the western kingbird and scarlet tanagers. Owls, warblers, petrels, gannets, ducks, shearwaters, phalaropes, songbirds and many others can be seen on Brier Island as well at different times of the year. The Fall Migration attracts bird watchers from all over as it is one of the best times for birdwatching, especially to see raptors such as hawks.


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