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On our recent road trip, we had a chance to take a whale watching cruise with Croisière Essipit. Located in Grandes-Bergeronnes, Quebec, the cruise location was only half of this adventure.
This article will detail one of the best places to go whale watching in Quebec, and things to watch for when looking for an ethical whale watching trip.
An Introduction to Whale Watching in Quebec
While most of us expect whales to be swimming about in the Atlantic Ocean, Quebec’s maritime region is one of the best places in the world for whale watching.
Along with being home to the St. Lawrence Beluga, you can find about 13 cetacean species in Quebec’s St. Lawrence. This is especially true during the late spring, summer and early fall seasons.
The St. Lawrence’s cold waters are the perfect place for whales in Quebec to feed on the abundance of plankton, krill, and other whale snacks in the area.
Basically, these whales migrate from warmer waters to this calmer, cooler area in Quebec for a sort of whale-vacation. Here, they can eat a ton before returning to warmer waters to reproduce.
Where to Find the Best Whale Watching in Quebec
While Gaspé makes for quite the adventure in the easternmost tip of Quebec’s Peninsula, you don’t have to go that far out for scenic whale watching in Quebec.
Follow the whale-route and start your search on the north coast along the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park.
Sitting under 500km east of Montreal, this area has some of the best locations for whale-watching in Quebec including Tadoussac and Les Bergeronnes.
Tadoussac is a popular tourist destination for whale-watching, famous for its quaint waterfront town and villages.
Tadoussac is also trendy since it’s one of the closest locations to Montreal for whale watching in Quebec.
Wanting to partner with a business that fits our brand, we went twenty-minutes east of Tadoussac to Grandes-Bergeronnes.
Here, we embarked on a tour with Essipit, just off the beaten path with more stunning views to enjoy along the way (more on the actual cruise below).
How to Get There
Since this was my first time in Maritime Quebec, I wanted to make the most of the province’s east coast.
So after being invited to Essipit by Jeannine, Director of Communications, for a whale-watching cruise, we decided to take advantage of the region and spend some time along the Saguenay River in Chicitoumi.
We love a good road trip, so we used Turo Car Rental yet again to get a ride to the east.
Staying in Chicitoumi would cut our drive time down, and allow us to see the town. This also meant we’d be able to add a drive through the Saguenay Fjord as a highlight.
We rented a cute Airbnb for our four-day excursion in Chicoutimi and hit the road on a sunny Tuesday morning.
The Road Trip
There are two easy ways to get to the Saguenay-Tadoussac area by car from Montreal.
To make the most of our trip, we went southeast to Drummondville before going north through Quebec City. It was a very scenic 4.5-hour drive to Chicitoumi from Montreal.
On the way back, we went along Trois-Rivieres to get another view of the road (and add some excitement our road-trip).
If we had more time, or perhaps on a next trip, we’ll take the long route along the coast towards Tadoussac – I hear you get awesome views of the ocean and hills on this route.
Types of Whales in Quebec
As mentioned, you can find 13 cetaceans in Quebec’s St. Lawrence. From the biggest of the species to small porpoises.
Here are some of the species found when whale watching in Quebec.
The Blue Whale
The Blue Whale is one of the biggest mammals to have ever existed, and they can be found right here in Quebec. Yeah – I was surprised too!
They’re a seasonal resident to Quebec, visiting the deep, cold waters for a grand buffet. Blue whales in Quebec can be spotted especially in late summer.
The second biggest whale in the world also makes their way to Quebec when hunger strikes.
The Finback or Fin whale feeds in the St. Lawrence during the popular whale-watching months. You can usually find them swimming between Tadoussac and Grandes-Bergeronnes.
The Humpback Whale is known for being both curious and friendly, always putting on a show with their tails.
They’re known to move about, and that’s no different in the waters of Quebec. Humpback whales can be spotted all along the St. Lawrence Gulf.
They frequent these waters often, and you’ll know when you spot their strikingly, large tail.
Minke whales are often found in Quebec waters from March to December, swimming between Tadoussac and Les Bergeronnes, and sometimes swimming up Quebec’s Saguenay River.
There are thousands of Minke whales expected to be frequenting the St. Lawrence Gulf and they are one of the most abundant whales in the world.
Beluga whales love the St. Lawrence. They can be found year-round in Quebec with an estimated population of 900 out of the hundreds of thousands swimming in Canadian waters.
A population decline from heavy hunting in the late 70s was the inspiration for the Saguenay-St Lawrence Marine Park.
You can even see these guys swimming up the Saguenay river!
Orcas or Killer Whales aren’t actually whales, but they’re the largest dolphin species in the world.
Orcas are pretty adaptable, seen in a variety of locations around the globe, including Quebec’s St. Lawrence!
While they’re rare here, there have been over twenty sightings since researchers began spotting them in the St. Lawrence in the early 1980s.
North Atlantic Right Whale
These endangered whales can be seen further east along the coast of the St. Lawrence.
They are one of the most hunted whale species in the world, with only about 300 survivors left in the North Atlantic.
The North Atlantic Right Whale is known for being loyal to the region, returning annually to the area.
Decimated by the whaling industry, there are precautions and new laws being put into place to respect the species and keep them alive.
Is Whale Watching in Quebec Ethical?
Speaking of respect, before embarking on our trip, I wanted to make sure whale watching in Quebec was ethical.
No sense in going on an excursion that would in turn harm animals or our earth. That’s not at all what we’re about.
So, I did my research and found a company that aligned with ethical practices and our values and morals.
PRO TIP: To help protect Canadian wildlife (or wildlife anywhere) be sure to contact your tour provider and ask questions about the tour beforehand.
- How are the boats operated? Do they keep their distance from whales? Do they respect where they are? Do they chase the whales (this is a big red flag)?
- Are they a part of an ethical or eco alliance?
- Are their boats fit for whale watching tours and are they eco-friendly?
While a number of companies will claim to be ethical, unfortunately, there are too many who still don’t follow ethical practices.
It’s up to use to ensure we participate in only ethical practices to ensure the safety of our earth and wildlife.
Speaking of ethical and eco alliances, Essipit is a part of the Éco-Baleine Alliance.
Croisière Essipit is one of a number of whale-watching organizations in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park who are a part of this alliance.
It was put in place to ensure those involved in whale-watching in this area abide by ethical practices to keep our whales safe.
The alliance gives more details on who they are and what they do. Be sure to ask your tour provider about their involvement with the alliance.
What to Wear While Whale Watching in Quebec
This isn’t the Caribbean. When whale watching in Quebec remember to dress warm; even in the dead of summer.
Since you’ll be out on the cold St. Lawrence, most whale-watching tours will provide some warm and/or waterproof gear for your time on the water.
Croisière Essipit made sure to include:
- Gloves (the ones we had were pretty thin but certainly better than nothing)
- Warm waterproof jacket (they’re big and bulky and double as a life-vest)
- Beanie (also thin, but the jackets had a hoodie attached to help)
- Waterproof overalls (they’re big, yet flexible)
Also, be sure to bring these items of your own:
- Gloves (that you know are warm in case you need some extra coverage)
- Scarf (while the jackets are warm, a scarf makes it even cozier)
- Sunglasses (the sun is very bright while out on a clear day)
- Closed shoes (things can get wet. Cruises prefer you wear closed shoes with socks and rubber bottoms)
- Camera (to capture the moment(s) of course)
Whale Watching in Quebec with Croisière Essipit
Croisières Essipit is located in Grandes-Bergeronnes, just 20 minutes east of popular Tadoussac, QC. Expect the drive there to be scenic like the rest of the area.
Essipit is tucked away from the main road, near the water, down a beautiful trail which can all be accessed by car.
Once we arrived, we were immediately greeted by bushy trees, the smell of water, and serene surroundings. We felt deep in Quebecois nature and were loving every minute of it.
Upon entering the clean, welcoming office at Essipit, we met with Jeannine where she gave us some information about what we were about to experience!
It wasn’t long before we were suited up in our overalls and jackets fit for Canadian fishermen. We’d be off on one of three zodiacs departing at that time.
But Did You See Whales?
Yes! We saw about a dozen cetaceans do be exact.
It was about ten minutes before Jim, our driver and guide, spotted and pointed out a grey whale not too far from us!
My heart started racing with excitement as we slowly sailed closer to it (but not too close!). He turned off the engine and in just a few seconds, it gave its warning blow.
Its fin peaked above the water at the moment right after, followed by a glimpse of its long, dark body. I can confirm – there are definitely whales in Quebec – big ones at that!
And that was just the beginning. We proceeded to see about four minke whales and a number of seals on our trip.
My favourite sighting was a humpback whale named Tic-Tac-Toe.
Researchers nearby name the whales that frequent the area, and Tic-Tac-Toe and her fabulous tale love to come for a visit.
She made a few appearances with her flamboyant tale alongside a new unidentified humpback whale before moving on.
Why Choose Ethical Whale-Watching in Quebec With Croisière Essipit
After speaking with Croisière Essipit‘s Director of Communications, we chose to partner with them for a number of reasons:
They’re super affordable
Most importantly, Croisière Essipit is budget-friendly. Each whale-watching tour aboard a zodiac costs $45 (low season) to $59 (high season) CAD.
And let me tell you, this experience is certainly worth your dollar.
Since wildlife is hard to predict, seeing whales on every tour is not promised. (Avoid Quebec whale-watching cruises who guarantee sightings – this can mean they don’t follow ethical practices).
As a bonus, in the event that the whales do escape you, Essipit will gladly have you return for free.
Ethical and informative
Not only did we have a blast on our whale watching trip with Jeannine and Jim, but they were super informative along the way.
During our trip, they even showed us a book of all the whales in the area and how to spot them. This book was made with information by whale researchers in Tadoussac.
At no time did we feel as if they mistreated wildlife. Jim was very gentle with the boat and motors when approaching whales and always kept a solid distance away.
Jeannine made a point to tell us about their safety practices. They try their best to separate themselves from tour groups who chase the whales for their guests or get way too close.
Essipit feels like family
From the moment we walked into Essipit, we felt at ease.
This was thanks to everyone’s friendly and welcoming demeanour. And it helped that their offices reminded me of a beach hut overlooking the water.
The vibe continued all throughout our trip, and after. Staff was always available and ready to help with a big east coast Canadian smile.
Off the Beaten Path
Heading to Grandes-Bergeronnes for a whale watching trip in Quebec takes you right off the beaten path, plunging you deep into Canadian nature.
While Tadoussac is definitely worth a visit, we much preferred embarking from the docks near Essipit.
It took us away from the crowds and into a more peaceful surrounding which was perfect before our cruise.
The Canadian government made the “Essipiunnuat reserve” in 1892 and in order to push beyond new limits, the Innu began marketing crafts to tourists in the Tadoussac area.
In 1978, Enterprise Essipit began, owned by members of the community to organize all activities and facilities on the land.
They have a deep respect for Aboriginal and Innu values and pride themselves on sharing the Innu culture.
To Wrap This Up
Whale watching in Quebec makes for quite the adventure! It’s even better when it’s done ethically, and with the right company.
Whale watching with Croisière Essipit was one of the best Canadian adventures I’ve been on and would highly recommend the activity with them.
Want More Travel Tips? You Got ‘Em!
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Have you been whale watching? Tell me about your adventures!