Humpbacks frolic near St. Vincent's Beach in 'bumper year' for whale-watching

Cameras trained on the water, dozens of tourists say they're having an experience they'll never forget.

Humpback whales are feasting on capelin just metres off the beach at St. Vincent's. They're surfacing, blowing, diving and showing off their massive tails.

It actually brought tears to my eyes. It was so incredible. - Joyce Stuart

"This is awesome," sang Ontario tourist Susan Stulen, and an area resident said the beach is "maggoty with whales."

Mark Quinn/CBC

Clifford Doran of nearby Trepassey has been photographing the large cetaceans from the beach for many years.

"A lot of people don't know about this but if I were them, I would check it out because it's real interesting," he said.

Mark Quinn/ CBC

Every year whales return to St. Vincent's to feed on spawning capelin and, because the shore drops off right next to the beach, the whales are surfacing just metres from shore.

Submitted by Clifford Doran

As Stulen found out, it's one of Newfoundland's spectacular secrets.

"It's a surprise. We didn't even know about this until someone here [in Newfoundland] told us about it. So, it's been a very pleasant surprise," she said, laughing.

"They're so close to shore and we don't get this in Ontario."

Mark Quinn/CBC

By midday Wednesday, a small crowd had gathered on the beach. 

"This is my first time here. It's been on my bucket list for years," said Joyce Stuart of Ontario.

"It actually brought tears to my eyes. It was so incredible."

Mark Quinn/CBC

'Bumper year' in many ways

Joe O'Brien, co-owner of O'Brien's Whale and Bird Tours, has been out on the ocean around Bay Bulls for more than 30 years. 

"Humpback whales are our favourite, and we're seeing a lot of new whales, new babies happening this season," he told The St. John's Morning Show this week. 

Mark Quinn/CBC

"This has been like a record year for the amount of new calves we're seeing. We used to be worried, because every season we'd kind of watch it pretty closely. But this year seems like every second whale shows up with a brand new calf."

People want to see unique things and Newfoundland and Labrador has got a whole box full of that tricks. - Joe O'Brien

O'Brien said staff take tours out every two hours throughout most of the season, and they're cataloguing whale tales while they're at it — recognizing individual whales that have been coming through for decades. 

"The whales feel very, very relaxed and a part of the whole system," said O'Brien, who stressed how important it is to follow regulations, go slow, and not get too close to the mammals.

He said the ability to instantaneously share photos and videos has catapulted whale-watching in this province around the world, particularly when people with large social media followings join a tour. 

"This year is a bumper year, because 35 years ago when we started you had to put film in a camera and you had to wait two weeks to develop it, and you had to guess if you're going to see the picture not," said O'Brien. 

"People want to see unique things and Newfoundland and Labrador has got a whole box full of that tricks."

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