I've journeyed to the far reaches of the St. Lawrence River to commune with the whales.
They're all here for the summer season. Pretty white belugas, acrobatic humpbacks, minke and pilot whales, even the world's largest mammal, the massive blue whale, may be found in the rich waters of the river's estuary where fresh and saltwater currents meet. Thanks to a 300-metre canyon beneath the waves - the Laurentian Channel - the waters are teeming with life. Where the sea floor rises, the ocean tides pump cold salt water saturated with oxygen and phytoplankton to the surface and, at the confluence with the massive Saguenay Fjord, more than 1,000 species of marine life flourish. Thirteen species of whales gather here to eat - a close encounter is almost guaranteed.
The north shore of the St. Lawrence is known as the Whale Route, 1,250 kilometres of bays and coves. The marine habitat is protected here - the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park is one of the first marine parks in Canada - and, on a good day, it's not unusual to spot six species, from harbour porpoises to dolphins to sperm whales and even great white sharks, from the shore. But the ultimate angle is from the surface of the river, bobbing in a kayak, and I've zipped myself into a wetsuit on a rainy morning to try my luck.
Ten minutes into our three-hour tour, two big minke whales appear, cavorting in the distance, then nothing. But I know the leviathans are nearby.
As I glide along the rocky shoreline, guide Jessica Roy, also a chef, doesn't miss the opportunity for an edible teaching moment, prying a spiky green sea urchin from the rocks with her paddle. We're devouring the orange roe - the foie gras of the sea - straight from the shell when a minke rises in the small cove. We watch, spellbound, as its sleek black fin breaks the surface three times before silently slipping away.
I dig into the incoming tide, imagining whales feeding beneath the rising swells, straining gallons of seawater and krill through their big baleen-filled mouths, when the veil is broken again, this time by a bright beluga, surfacing just nine metres in front of my kayak.
The pure white ridge of its back slices through the dark water like a porcelain saucer, rolling over and over, before it disappears back into the delicious depths.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Cinda Chavich is a frequent contributor to Globe Travel.
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