Epic Adventure ~ Snorkeling with Whales
I felt like an alien. I was in a full piece black neoprene wet suit complete with hood, sitting in Ocean Quest's Zodiac listening to Holly Stanley my tour guide for the next three hours. We were headed out of Petty Harbour into the Atlantic Ocean to do something I did not even realize was possible. We were about to go snorkeling with whales.
The tour can accommodate up to 12 people and was full the day I went. Our Zodiac was zipping along looking for the mist of a whale saying hello. It was a beautiful clear day with only a few small clouds dotting the pale blue sky. There was not even the slightest hint of a breeze. Holly, who has spent a great deal of time on the water, told us that she had never seen the water that calm which was very lucky as this would make it easier to spot the whales. I was enjoying just being on the water admiring the beauty of the shoreline and being amazed at how much it looked like Ireland. The sunshine glisten on the crystal blue waters as Holly explained how;
“Ocean Quest, back in its earlier days, teamed up with a company called Ocean Net who's mission was to help instill a marine conservation ethic starting with the youth. We had youth and the oceans conferences every year with guest speakers such as Bill Montevecchi, who helped to educate the youth and even the adults on how important it is to keep our oceans clean.”
She told me how one of the company's moto's is:
“'Take only pictures, leave only bubbles' and clean up when they can. We do not want to harm or disturb any animals that we encounter on or under the water. This will allow us to be able to see them year after year. Everyone needs to respect them, just as they do us.”
They want people to have incredible experiences, to see things that they never would have seen and to get a greater appreciation for the ocean and marine life. They want to do this in a way that does not harm the ocean life or disrupt the the animals environment. They want to not only amaze but also educate people as well.
Holly's explanation was interrupted as said as she pointed out into the ocean at the whale blow spraying in the air. She told us that it was a humpback as the driver turned the Zodiac towards the whale. We saw the whale jump and dive, this time even closer as the boat raced toward the giant creature. The Zodiac stopped which placed us right beside the whale's path about 100 feet away. We watched it jump and breach. Holly looked at all of us in the boat and told us to put on our snorkel masks, jump out and swim towards the whale.
Everyone did as there were told.
Everyone except for me.
I had questions.
This is a wild animal that can weigh between 25-40 tons and we were just suppose to jump in the water and swim to it? Holly reassured me by telling me “With the knowledge and experience throughout our 16 years in business, Ocean Quest has been able to try and gauge the reactions of these giant creatures but we also respect that everyone and everything can makmake mistakes. Due to the whales echolocation, they know exactly how large they are and where we are in respect to their say tail. We make sure to have a safety swimmer in the water when we have a large group in order to keep the group together and reduce the risk of accidents. We have a spotter along with the boat operator looking for aggressive activity from the surface. If the whale is aggressively feeding, actively breaching or lob tailing we do not put anyone in the water with them.”
She assured me that she would never put anyone in a dangerous situation, and told me that it is an incredible experience that you will never forget. As the other people climbed back into the boat, amazed with what they had seen I took a deep breath and got ready to jump.
The next whale we found was a Fin whale, one of the largest whales in the world. I secured my mask and waited for Holly's cue to jump. The Zodiac came to a stop and we were told to go. I jumped into the ocean and shivered a little as the cool water snuck into my wetsuit. I kicked my finned feet towards the whale and then looked up. There before me was the most incredible thing I had ever seen.
A massive creature gliding through the water in a graceful dance. Seeing a whale jump and breach through the waves when in a boat is amazing, but being so close to this giant of the sea and getting to see it in it's entirety was heart stopping. Time seemed to slow down, it was just me and this whale. The only sound the controlled rhythm of my breathing through my snorkel. I have never felt so small, so peaceful and so connected to everything. How could something so immense move with such elegance? I was in awe. As my new friend dove out of sight I silently thanked him for sharing a swim.
We stopped a few more times, allowing all on board a fair chance to swim with one of these marvellous ocean residents.
As the Zodiac sliced through the water and headed back to shore, the smile on my face grew wider. I just got to share a swim with one of the largest creatures on the planet! I shook my head, just another day in Newfoundland.
Ocean Quest Whale snorkeling tours run all July and August for $199 a person. For more information please visit www.oceanquestadventures.com.