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Riding the buses » Bucket list for kids, Canada, Family travel » Bucket List for Kids: Whale watching

Bucket List for Kids: Whale watching

Whale watching off Tofino

Canada is a great place to watch whales, on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and even in between. Whales are very interesting to watch. They’re big so it’s hard to miss them. In fact, some whales are as big as a small airplane. And you can see them because they don’t stay under the water all the time like fish do. That’s because they breathe air through their lungs just like people so they have to come to the surface of the water every once in a while.

Sometimes a big spray that looks like water or steam comes out of the whale’s blowhole. A blowhole is sort of like our nose but its on the top of its head. Some whales (called baleen whales) have two blowholes. And its air not water that they spray.

There are other interesting things to know about whales. They don’t lay eggs but give birth to their babies like people do and they take care of them when they are young. They travel great distances every year, to colder water for the food and to warmer water to have their babies. They can  steer and stop using their flippers.

Whales make sounds like moans and whines to communicate and some baleen whales like the humpback sing.

Baleen whales don’t have teeth so they have to swim around with their mouths open and bristles in their mouths keep the food in and let the water back out. The food of choice is plankton (microscopic plants and animals), krill (look like small shrimp), squid and small fish. Whales with teeth can eat tuna, cod and salmon.

Here are four places in Canada famous for whale watching.

Tofino, BC

Dressed warmly while whale watching off Tofino

Tofino is off the coast of Vancouver Island and that’s the first place my kids went whale watching. We got to wear these bright orange survival-floatation suits and went out on an open boat. The gray whale passes by Tofino when it makes its migration every year from the warm waters in the Baja Peninsula to its feeding grounds in Alaska. That’s a round trip of 20,000 km! There are humpback whales too and sometimes you can see a killer whale (orca).

Gulf of St. Lawrence, Que

What a surprise it was to learn that some of the best whale watching in the world is done in the centre of Canada, north of Quebec City where the water from the Saguenay River flows into the salty waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It’s a natural habitat because the water is very deep and rich with the food that whales love best. There are humpback whales, fin whales, and the world’s largest mammal, the blue whale.

I followed the shoreline of the St. Lawrence River along Charlevoix’s Route 362 last summer and this is one of the most scenic drives in Canada so there is a lot more than just whales here. You can catch a whale-watching cruise from Saint-Siméon, Baie Sainte-Catherine and Tadoussac.

Bay of Fundy, NB/NS

Advertisements for whale watching off Grand Manan Island

Whales love the Bay of Fundy because the tides there are the highest in the world and that means lots of choice foods for whales. The bay also give whales protection so it’s a popular place for whales to give birth.

Up to 12 species of whales visit the bay during the summer. The first to arrive are the finback and minke whales followed by the humpback whales and then the right whales. We saw a right whale–the most endangered whale in the world–when we were there.

You can go whale watching in the Bay of Fundy from either New Brunswick or Nova Scotia. We went out in a small boat from Grand Manan Island.

 Witless Bay, Nfld

I went out on a boat at the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, just south of St. John’s, to see the Atlantic puffins, the official bird of Newfoundland. There’s a large colony there and you can get close to the birds without disturbing them and they are very interesting to watch. It is also the best place in Newfoundland to see humpback whales and in fact more than 20 species of whales swim along this coast.


It can be freezing out on a boat in open waters so dress warmly and bring along some sunscreen. The boat you’re in should be ‘whale wise’, which means being as quiet as possible and not making sudden turns.

By Sylvia Fanjoy

© Riding the buses 2015

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One response to "Bucket List for Kids: Whale watching"

  1. Alice Jones says:

    I’m interested in taking my kids whale watching someday. It’s very interesting how huge whales can be, my kids would be very amazed if they saw a whale the size of an airplane. Hearing whales communicate would also be a fun experience, especially if it was by a singing baleen whale. I remember to bring heavy coats when we go whale watching some day.

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