Dolphins, Seabirds & Bergy Bits
It was another beautiful, sunny day in the capital city when I hopped on the O’Brien’s Whale & Bird Tours‘ shuttle to Bay Bulls. Driving the cozy rig was part owner Loyola O’Brien – he was all smiles and stories as we scooted through the intricate alleyways of downtown St. John’s to pick up the rest of our passengers. The drive out was lovely – Loyola gave us a brief history lesson on St. John’s, then entertained us with some traditional Newfoundland music – laying the groundwork for a delightful day on the water.
A love of the ocean and its natural surroundings led owners (and brothers) Joe and Loyola O’Brien to offer guided tours of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve aboard their refurbished fishing vessel the Rob and Rand. Operating under the name Bird Island Charters in 1985, they were the first boat-touring company to operate out of Bay Bulls, Newfoundland. Their great service, emphasis on safety, and unique brand of entertainment quickly attracted a growing number of visitors. They soon added two 46-foot passenger vessels, the Atlantic Puffin and Atlantic Whaler, to give visitors an even more comfortable tour. This year marks their 30th anniversary and I was thrilled to join in on the celebrations! Atlantic Puffins, Humpback Whales, seabirds, icebergs, sea stacks, caves and a geyser are just some of the sights you can see during one of their daily boat tours – I couldn’t wait to get on the water.
As we boarded the vessel and made our way out of the harbour, we were treated to a rendition of “I’se The Bye” by The Irish Descendants‘ vocalist, Con O’Brien. The sun made the ocean sparkle, the breeze was warm and the Iceberg Beer was cold – it was perfection. We heard an excited voice come over the speakers – there was a school of dolphins alongside the boat! I peered over the edge- there they were – a playful group of six or seven white-beaked dolphins jumping up out of the water, putting on a show. It was absolutely incredible. The stuck around for fifteen minutes, playing and frolicking before they swam off – presumably to find some lunch.
Now it was time to visit the birds. I have to admit, I was not prepared for what I saw. The Witless Bay Ecological Reserve is home to the largest Atlantic Puffin colony in North America (260,000 pairs) and millions of other seabirds. It was the most breathtaking sight I’ve ever seen. “Millions of seabirds” is not an understatement – I was in awe of the sheer number we saw – the sky was black with birds. Not only that, but O’Brien’s cruises snug to the cliff face so you can see them up close. It was absolutely beautiful.
On our way back, we circled around a beautiful blue iceberg and the crew fished for bergy bits for our beers. For those of you who have never experienced iceberg ice in a cold beer, it’s out of this world, trust me. We sailed back with the sun still shinning, everyone talking excitedly about what we saw. They turned up the music and Con led us in a sing along ofGreat Big Sea‘s Mari-Mac. (Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of the chorus after the third or fourth listen!)
Back on land we stopped in at The Sailor’s Galley Restaurant for perhaps the best fish and chips and bread pudding I’ve ever had. I don’t say that lightly – I take my fish and chips very seriously O’Brien’s served up a beautiful plate of golden cod that fell apart at the touch of my fork and the bread pudding was soft and warm and full of chocolate. Topped off with (another) Iceberg beer, it was the perfect end to a perfect day.
Join O’Brien’s Whale & Bird Tours as they celebrate 30 years on the water. Book your tour now!