Whale Watching in Canada is incredible on the St Laurent in Quebec | Tour Canada
Updated: Jan 26, 2020
Note: All photos shown here were taken directly from travellers or Out Here road warriors on our Out Here road trips. See you on the road.
One of the great things about travelling in Canada is the spectacular wildlife viewing. One of our favourites is whale watching. This is especially true when you are on a small Zodiac boat. You can find yourself up-close and personal with the whales if they are friendly and come to you. There are many places to enjoy a whale watching experience throughout the country – along all of Canada's coastlines.
One region that stands out for a whale watching tour in Canada. Cote Nord of Quebec in Tadoussac and further east near Les Bergeronnes and Les Escoumins. The mighty St Laurent at this location has large numbers of whales and other cetaceans. The funky word cetaceans is a grouping of aquatic mammals – whales, dolphins or porpoises.
There are multiple ways to go whale watching. You can watch them from shore, go on a Zodiac boat tour (12 seater to 36 seater), venture on a larger boat, or by kayak (although less likely and very seasonal). Some of our favourite companies to go whale watching in Quebec are Essipit, Croisières AML, Mer et Monde (and by your own vehicles + feet). For the smaller boats north and east of Tadoussac we strongly recommend booking in advance as they regularly fill up in the summer and through September.
The reason why so many whales migrate through this region is because of the confluence of freshwater from the Saguenay River and the salty St Lawrence River (aka St Laurent) water. This helps to provide plenty of plankton and krill. Some of the whales are eating over two tons of krill per day to meet their energy needs. That is a serious amount of these little shrimp-like crustaceans.
The St Laurent is about ~1200 km long, and has a basin size of 1.3M square kilometers. The flow of the water heads from Kingston Ontario all the way out to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This is the entry way to the ocean where the whales can continue migrating or hang around.
There are over 13 species of whales and other cetaceans in this region of Canada for wildlife watching. Although rare, it is possible to see the largest animal on the planet, blue whales. The diversity is incredible, and although rare, some of them can get friendly even swimming under the boat and doing a wave with their fin. While we have provided brief descriptions of whales in this area of Quebec below - you can read a lot more here at the incredibly informative Baleines Direct website. Baleines means whale in french. They also have a cool feature where they show where some of the whales on the their interactive map!
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Back to Whales – The Wild Tadoussac Experience
For those interested, here are a few details on the whales you may see on a whale watching experience in Canada near Tadoussac. We do visit this incredible region on our road trip adventure trips here in Canada – so that you can go whale watching of course (and check out the sand dunes amongst other festivities).
Humpback whales – these gorgeous whales can grow up to 16m in length and weigh up to 35 tonnes. They have a large black body and long white pectoral fins. They eat a serious amount of krill and schooling fish like herring! They also hunt prey by forming a group and creating a bubble cloud with their spouts to create a net and catch the fish in a big ‘gulp’. The awesome part is that they are frequently seen on a whale watching tour and are not at risk in Canada. This is a great improvement from the 80’s when they were at-risk. The number of visitors and frequency of sightings of these whales has been increasing since the 1990’s.
Minke whales – there are over several hundred thousand Minke whales around the world and thousands in and around the St Laurent river. They are in the area from March to December. They are plentiful and frequently seen all the way to the mouth of the Saguenay river at Tadoussac. Occasionally they also go 10 nautical miles up-river. If you are whale watching from one of the shoreline treks, these are the likely ones you will see. These 10 meter and 10 tonne whales are actually the smallest of the St Laurent – but they have a big spout that reaches 2m high!
Fin whales – are one of the most likely whales that you will get a chance to see on a whale watching tour in Quebec. They are also massive – and are the second largest of all whales and other cetaceans in the world. Many are full-time seasonal residents in the region – not just passing through. They also visit all the way up through the Estuary in the St. Lawrence. Many individual whales return every summer to the feeding grounds between May and late November. They can be observed on a trip in Canada on their own or in groups as large as 20. They are a special concern species with a global population of around 100K individuals. This is much better than in the 1970’s when active hunted was finally banned.
Belugas – these whales grow up to 5m in length and weight up to 2 tonnes. They can dive for up to 25 minutes and there are around 1K Belugas in the mighty St. Lawrence River of Canada to check out. These are easy to notice with their white colour, rounded melon head.
Killer whales – these awesome animals are actually the largest dolphins in the world at up to 10m long. Although they are called whales, they are actually part of the dolphin family. While they have been observed in the St. Lawrence Estuary it is very rare. They used to be abundant as recent as the 1940’s, but times have changed in this part of Canada. Fingers crossed for a rebound in the coming years.
Long-finned pilot whales – these are impressive dark-skinned mammals with a prominent melon shaped head that can be up to 8m long. There are around 1.6K in the St. Lawrence. Keep your eyes peeled.
Sperm whales – these are the largest toothed cetaceans that can grow up to 19m long, weigh 50 tonnes and have the biggest brains in the animal kingdom. These massive whales are occasionally seen in the summer in the St. Lawrence as they migrate. They can also dive for up to two hours and up to 2000 meters down – so when they are at the surface look!
Northern bottlenose whales – these whales can usually be found in groups of 5 to 15. They can get to 10m in length and weigh up to 7 tonnes. They are endangered and are extremely rare to see.
North Atlantic right whales – these beautiful large whales can grow up to 17m long and weigh up to 60 tonnes. Unfortunately they are endangered. They estimate that there are less than 500 of these magnificent creatures. You can still see them - as the frequent the St. Lawrence from July through September heading to the shallow coastal waters and all the way to the Estuary.
Blue whales – the largest whale in the world. Can grow up to 33.5 m in size and up to 135 tonnes. They have an explosive and loud spout that can reach 6m high. Although they visit the St. Lawrence their population is endangered. It is believed there are only 300 mature individuals in all eastern Canada. If you are one of the lucky ones that see them, it will likely be a solo blue whale or a small group.
There are even more species in this amazing region of Canada for whale watching – including harbour porpoises, white beaked dolphins and the Atlantic white-sided dolphins.
We hope that you get to tour this amazing location in Canada – from the incredible whale watching opportunities, the sand dunes, gorgeous towns and unique Quebec maritimes culture. It is spectacular.
See you on the road.