Watch humpback whale wow boaters near Bathurst

·3 min read
Rick Vienneau says he took this shot of a humpback whale about 10 kilometres off the coast in the Beresford area last Thursday. (Rick Vienneau/Facebook - image credit)
Rick Vienneau says he took this shot of a humpback whale about 10 kilometres off the coast in the Beresford area last Thursday. (Rick Vienneau/Facebook - image credit)

A Beresford man says he had the experience of a lifetime last week while boating with a couple of friends on the Bay of Chaleur.

Rick Vienneau says it was a nice sunny day last Thursday in his buddy's boat about 10 kilometres offshore from Beresford when they spotted a splash in the distance.

When they got closer to investigate, said Vienneau, a humpback whale breached the water's surface about 300 metres in front of the boat.

"There she was," he said. "She was just jumping in and out of the water and rolling around and flapping her fins."

"It was pretty cool."

WATCH | A humpback whale enjoys the Bay of Chaleur

Vienneau said he and his friends couldn't quite believe what they were seeing.

Vienneau works as a federal fisheries officer, but he emphasized that he was off-duty when he saw the whale and his comments do not represent the government department.

He's been boating in that area since he was a kid, he said, and had never seen a humpback there before. It's been a rare thing to see even a little black minke whale fin or a harbour porpoise.

The boaters and whale followed each other for about an hour, said Vienneau, along the coastline toward Bathurst.

"It was impressive," he said, estimating the whale was probably bigger than the boat they were in, which was a 25 or 30 footer.

"You never know if she's coming back or not, then the next thing you know she just jumps out of the water in front of the boat."

Rick Vienneau/Facebook
Rick Vienneau/Facebook

Vienneau posted a video of the encounter online. It has now had more than 90,000 views, he said, and phone calls and messages have been coming in steadily.

A lot of people headed onto the water or the beach with binoculars afterwards, he said, hoping to catch a glimpse, but as far as he knows, no one else did.

He also hasn't heard of anyone who has seen a humpback in the Beresford area before.

Vienneau thinks it may have followed a boat to the Port of Belledune, or just gotten lost.

Submitted by Gina Lonati
Submitted by Gina Lonati

Gina Lonati, a whale researcher at the University of New Brunswick, agreed with Vienneau that it was a "really cool sighting," but said it's not entirely surprising for a humpback to be in that area.

Lonati said she took part in surveying last summer near the mouth of the Bay of Chaleur, closer to Shippagan and Gaspé, Que., and humpbacks were present there.

"They do wander in search of food," she said, including small fish such as herring, sand lance and krill, as well as some plankton.

They are tolerant of a wide range of ocean temperatures, she said, including the relatively warm waters of the bay, since they migrate far south to breed.

And they don't need great depths either. Lonati said one of her colleagues previously observed a humpback in about three metres of water.

i-Boating/gpsnauticalcharts.com
i-Boating/gpsnauticalcharts.com

The water must have been "deep enough" where the video was shot, she said, in order for the whale to have been breaching.

It's impossible to tell whether it's a male or female from the video, said Lonati, and the type of behaviour exhibited is typical for both.

Lonati is part of a team currently in the Shippagan area as part of a two-week research cruise.

They are surveying for whales — with a particular focus on critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.

The right whales seem to be farther east this season, she said, in the Western Bradelle Valley between the Acadian Peninsula and the Magdalen Islands.

Lonati uses a drone to gather close up images of whales.

She said she hasn't had much of an opportunity to do that yet because of windy weather.

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