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There She Blows: Cruising the Saint Lawrence for Whales

December 16, 2016

While Captain Ahab might receive a hefty fine (and a potential prison sentence) for his obsessive hunting today, the white whales of literary legend hold no less allure for the seafaring enthusiast who pays a visit to the St. Lawrence. Baie St. Catherine, Quebec welcomes thousands of visitors every year on whale watching cruises, and one sunny afternoon in late June found my fellow guide and I visiting with our latest crop of Evolve Tours student travelers. The call of the wild sounded strong and our group had made the trek from Quebec City to pay it homage – a grand denouement to the elementary school experience to be sure, thank you Evolve Tours office!

On the card were a number of impressive aquatic beasts including minkes, humpbacks, blues, fins and seals in addition to the infamous white whales. A round of Baby Beluga on the bus ride heralded a cruise rife with white flukes dipping in and out of the waves. If life is a beach then end-of-year trips are a glorious breach and we were ready to see nature’s counterpart unfold before us.


Perhaps the sea was angry that day but the river was calm where it came together with the Saguenay fjord. The confluence spread before us like a storyboard over which we would sketch our fantastical musings of nature’s sublimity when the majestic beasts we sought deigned to appear. Our guide stood atop a platform at the vessel’s bow, attentively seeking the first signs of action in the great expanse of blue. She maintained a steady stream of discussion about the geography of the land and the life likely to be found in the area but beneath the surface she was as keen as a hound on the hunt, scanning the horizon and waiting for the aberrant spray of a breath from below.

Our hunting party cast its shadow upon the waters like a mariner’s albatross hanging in the sky overhead. Would we bring good fortune to the vessel on this day?


Watchers gathered tightly together, wind whipping their faces, craning to catch the first hint of life at play beneath the surface. It wasn’t long before the white caps in the distance gave way to the playful flukes of belugas, frolicking in a herd off the port side. The teasing tails dove back under the water and we were left empathizing with Ahab’s unquenchable thirst for more. As it was, the white whales signaled the start of the show, with the appearance of ever more fins and the streaking sprays from underwater blows up ahead. Before we knew it, our party could be found on any deck, captivated by the rolling masses of the gentle river giants who drifted in and out of awareness, catching our eyes and drawing the crowd like moths to a flame. A seal came so close to the starboard we could look directly into its dark crystalline eyes. No sooner had it disappeared than another bobbing head was spotted briefly in the distance, breaking through the water in leisurely ripples that hinted of another encounter on its way as they reached our prow.


The charm of a whale watching excursion lies in the anticipation. It is the moment of excitement that explodes across the deck when the first few watchers catch the movement of a fin across the waves. It is the way the crowd rushes to the spot of the sighting, stands on tiptoe and readies their cameras for the perfect shot. It is the fleeting glimpse of an eye caught from the corner of the stern in a snapshot of time that no one else notices. It is the opportunity to take that moment home knowing if belongs to no one else.

For a teenager on the cusp of beginning a new chapter in their life, the momentary wave of a whale’s tail is like a teaser of what is to come next. Many of the students on tour with Evolve are winding down their elementary school story and looking out toward the horizon where high school looms unknown. They may have some idea about what is ahead – tales from friends, orientations here and there – but the real story is yet to be written, just like the tail of a whale is only a clue as to the enormity of the beast attached. Maybe some of our crew pondered this connection as we coasted along the pristine waters and maybe it was lost on others. Either way, they would all be captains of their own ships soon enough, navigating new waters and looking for new opportunities to commune with the sublime. There she blows, captain!


by Janet Damianopoulos

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