Monday, August 19, 2019
Many times we have heard people say they paid for a whale tour and never saw one, but we wanted to see the puffins at Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. Whales would be a bonus. The cost was $70 each for Gatherall’s, the one recommended at the visitor’s center.
It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm with calm seas. The shoreline going out of the bay was beautiful, reminding me of the Pictured Rocks on Lake Michigan. As we made the turn out of the harbor, the captain advised us to hold onto a rail. The waves were bigger than I expected, hardly rough, but I get seasick. We came to the first island in the reserve, maybe Gull Island. An amazing amount of birds were nesting and breeding, gulls, murres by the thousands and puffins. Puffins only have their distinctive orange beaks during breeding season. They go out to sea for several years and return to the same island and the same burrow with the same mate.
As we passed by the island, we could see a boat maybe a mile out, and the captain headed for it. Whales had been spotted. I had a good spot near the front of the boat, and it wasn’t long before we could see the splash of a big whale. It took 10-15 minutes to get out there. Several times we could see the whale breach, coming all the way out of the water. Then the captain said there were two, then three, then four, maybe five of them. I had two cameras, one with a 500mm zoom lens. As I put the 200mm down on the deck, I could feel the familiar dizzy feeling. Uh oh, I should stay up in the cool breeze and focus ahead. I checked the camera settings, shutter speed priority, sunlight, action mode, continuous focus and multiple shot fast. Then looking up again, we could see a lot of action from 4 or 5 Humpback whales.
I was on the left side, behind a nice gentleman who moved aside as I stuck the big lens next to him. The big waves made the boat go up and down, so I leaned against the rail, spread my feet apart and tried to keep the lens on the action. When the whales went down, you didn’t know where they might come back up, so you can’t continue looking through the lens. I tried shooting without looking through the lens, but that didn’t work too well. But these whales just kept playing, jumping, splashing, blowing, waving and even growling. The captain said this was very unusual and we were very lucky. We were probably there 15-20 minutes before we had to head back. The other smaller boat stayed put. It was quite a show!
As we got closer to the island, a couple of girls on the back of the boat released 22 baby puffins. We had seen several signs warning of baby puffins crossing the road. Apparently the young ones get confused by the lights at night and head for them. There is a baby puffin patrol that drives around and picks them up. These were the ones found just last night. They are so cute, you just want to take one home. On the way in one of the young Irish crew sang a song everyone must have known, as they all joined in.
I was quite happy to put my feet on solid ground. We went up the road to hike the East Coast Trail from Bay Bulls to the Lighthouse going north. It was about an hour before I stopped feeling wobbly and nauseous. We have walked this trail a lot now, and it has been beautiful every time. We’ve been very lucky this week with perfect weather. It is so different when the sun is shining. The water is so blue, clear and then green when splashing against the rocks. The trees and grasses are so green. On a gray day, the water is gray and even the grass loses its color. This is why Newfies paint their houses bright colors, so they get color on gray days.