Monday, 23 June 2014

Boat Tour!

2013_NL_F4_0108Summer in Newfoundland means capelin, and capelin mean whales! The best time to see whales on the Avalon Peninsula is in the months of June and July, just after the icebergs clear off and the capelin roll in. Seabird season pretty much coincides with whale season, so you will almost certainly get a two-for-one on your tour. If you are lucky, and there is also a late iceberg season, you can get a "three-fer" with sightings of bergs, birds, and whales all in one.

While I was home last summer I thought it was time to take Zoey out on another whale watching adventure. With Anne, Zoey, and my camera gear all in the car, we drove down to Mobile to go out on the Molly Bawn Whale & Puffin Tour to see if we could spot some whales feeding.

2013_NL_F4_0101There are a number of whale and bird tour companies around the province, and the provincial tourism people keep a list of some of them here. I have been out on a few different tour boats over the years, and the one I like the best is the Molly Bawn out of Mobile. I like that they are close to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, so that I get more quality time with the wildlife for my money than with some of the other tour companies. I also like that the Molly Bawn is just the right size boat for me. Any smaller and the ride would be a bit too rough, and any bigger and the boat wouldn't be able to get as close to the whales or the islands. Yet the Molly Bawn is still large enough to have a cabin to sit in if the weather turns bad.

Getting to the Molly Bawn's dock is easy. We took Route 10 south from St. John's to Mobile. We picked up our tickets at the Molly Bawn ticket office on the left side of the main road as we entered Mobile, and then headed down to the dock to board the Molly Bawn.

Mobile Map


While you are hanging around waiting to board, you should keep a sharp eye out around the dock, because there are all sorts of amazing little creatures to be seen. There are baby fish of different species, and little jellyfish (some of them even glow) in the water, and crab, and starfish on the rocks, visible in low tide. We heard that there are some otters nearby that sometimes swim out to look at the people, although we didn't see any on our trip.

And some of the creatures you may see are not so little at all: lion's mane jellyfish can grow a bell of more than 2 metres in diameter. Their tentacles can be up to 37 metres! That makes them longer than a blue whale and one of the longest animals on earth! Just don't try to touch them, their tentacles are very effective at capturing prey and do sting when they come in contact with human skin, but their poison is not lethal.


When the boat was ready, we boarded using a convenient set of stairs. For me, this was quite handy since I was carrying 40 kg of camera gear and didn't want to have to jump from the wharf to the boat while carrying all that weight.



There were two crew on the Molly Bawn: a skipper and a tour guide. Both were well qualified to take us out on our tour. The skipper was Transport Canada certified, and Jeannine Winkel, our tour guide, is a biologist. She was a great source of interesting information about the marine wildlife we saw.


Despite being a smaller boat, there was plenty of room.


When everyone was on board, Jeannine gave a demonstration of how to put on a life jacket.



Some people decided to wear their life jackets during the tour...


... and others, like me, chose to leave them in the storage locker. I left mine off because I found it got in the way of my cameras. But I knew it was close by, should anything happen.


Anne and I made sure Zoey had hers on, though.

Molly Bawn Tour 1

Speaking of small children, Zoey loved the boat ride and watching the birds and the whales. She really got into looking for wildlife and pointing them out to us.



Like any good trip, it helps to plan ahead and be prepared. When you are out on the water, there are a few things you can bring to make the experience a bit more enjoyable. The first are sunglasses. A dollop of sunscreen doesn't go astray, either.



It's also a good idea to bring a rain jacket, a sweater, and a pair of gloves. The wind can be very cool at times, and a sweater can come in very handy. When the boat is heading into the wind, spray can kick up making for a bit of a shower and you might be thankful to have a rain jacket to wear; and if you are going to be taking a lot of photos, then a thin pair of gloves to wear will make a world of difference if the wind is cool. You do not want to miss a great photo just because your hands were too cold!


A cap can serve double duty and protect your head against both the sun and any cool winds there might be. If you bring a cap along, just make sure it can't blow away!


Now that we were all settled and ready, we pulled away from the dock and began looking for wildlife.


I have two favourite spots for shooting while out in a boat. The first is right on the point of the bow, but as you can see, the bow can get pretty crowded. Even if you are right at the point, there is not a lot of side-to-side room for framing compositions. The other spot I like to shoot from is the stern. The nice thing about the stern of the boat is that you have a lot of space to yourself for moving around to get a good angle while taking pictures.


While we were out, we saw so much wildlife that I am going to have to break up my story into a couple of posts. The next post will be about the seabirds we saw, and the last post will be about the whales.

Here is a list of links to all of the blog posts from my 2013 tour around Newfoundland:
Trout River and Gros Morne National Park
Cuckolds Cove to Carbonear
Signal Hill
Boat Tour!
Bird Watching!
Whale Watching!
Fogo Part 1: Getting There
Fogo Part 2: Walking Around
Fogo Part 3: The Fishery
Fogo Part 4: The Fogo Island Inn
Twillingate Part 1: Getting There
Twillingate Part 2: Wine, Music, and Whine
Twillingate Part 3: An Iceberg and a Lighthouse
Twillingate Part 4: Down to the Sea in Boats

I recently selected my best photographs of Newfoundland and Labrador and hand-made them as fine art prints, which I sell from my website here.

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