Why there are so many whales off the coast of N.L. — and what to do if you spot them

·3 min read
Yvonne and Darryl Pevie spotted a pod of orcas near Bonavista last weekend. (Submitted by Yvonne Pevie - image credit)
Yvonne and Darryl Pevie spotted a pod of orcas near Bonavista last weekend. (Submitted by Yvonne Pevie - image credit)
Submitted by Yvonne Pevie
Submitted by Yvonne Pevie

While the 2021 iceberg season in Newfoundland and Labrador has been decidedly lacklustre, this year, whales have been putting on spectacular performances.

Last weekend, Yvonne and Darryl Pevie of Bonavista were lucky enough to experience the whales for themselves when a pod of orca whales surrounded their boat while they were out cod jigging.

"We were like, 'Oh my God, there are orcas here,'" Yvonne said in an interview with CBC News. "The whole ocean just seemed to teem with them."

Over the past few weeks, an unusually high number of whales have been spotted off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, and social media users have shared pictures and videos of the animals far and wide.

Darryl and Yvonne say they're out on the water fairly often so they thought it was likely they would spot whales eventually, but they weren't expecting to get so close or see so many — 15 or 16, Darryl estimates.

Yvonne said she tried her best to get the best shot possible, even though there was a "good swell" on and the boat was rocking.

"I was trying to keep my balance, not lose my phone, and make sure that Darryl and I didn't get into a racket while I was trying to videotape it," she said.

CBC
CBC

Yvonne called the experience "amazing," especially since the whales were so close to shore.

"It was such a thrill," Yvonne said. "To see Bonavista in the background and everything, it was just remarkable. Beautiful."

'Our great breadbasket'

Although it may seem like the whales are just trying to show off, an unusually early capelin season is partly what has brought them to provincial waters in droves, said DFO scientist and whale expert Jack Lawson in an interview with CBC News.

"This is the time when all the whales that have been wintering in the southern climates come north to feed in our great breadbasket," he said.

Lawson said thousands of humpback whales as well as smaller numbers of fin whales, minke whales and dolphins come to chase capelin near places like St. Vincent's. Many of those animals haven't eaten since last summer, he said, and come to Newfoundland to feed after a winter in the tropics.

Beyond the usual influx of humpback whales, Lawson said, a pod of 30 whales has been spotted off Bauline and into Trinity Bay — a record number in the area.

"This is a real, unusually large group of killer whales in this area," he said.

Emma Grunwald/CBC
Emma Grunwald/CBC

Killer whales are naturally curious, Lawson said, so he isn't surprised to see videos like the one taken by the Pevies, where the animals come right up next to their boat.

While they've never had a report of someone being attacked by a killer whale off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, Lawson said it's still a good idea to exercise caution for the sake of yourself and the whale.

"Don't do unpredictable things. So don't swerve your boat. If the whales are around, don't speed up so you risk hitting them," Lawson said. "Keep a steady speed if they're around you or put your boat in neutral and watch the animals."

Submitted by Jay Mills
Submitted by Jay Mills

It's against marine regulations to intentionally approach within 100 metres of a whale and within 200 metres of a whale and a calf, but whales are so curious, it isn't necessary to approach them, since they'll usually come to you, Lawson said.

One of the reasons people are awed by videos like the one shot by the Pevies is that the experience is so rare; Lawson said it's difficult to predict where the whales will be or how long they'll stay in one area.

"It depends on what the whales decide to do."

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