A Beresford man says he had the experience of a lifetime last week while cruising with a couple of friends on Baie des Chaleurs.
Rick Vienneau says it was a beautiful sunny day last Thursday in his buddy’s boat about 10 kilometers off Beresford when they spotted a splash in the distance.
When they got closer to investigate, Vienneau said, a humpback whale broke through the surface of the water about 300 meters ahead of the boat.
“She was there,” he said. “She was just jumping in and out of the water and rolling and flapping her fins.”
“That was pretty cool.”
WATCH | A humpback whale enjoys Chaleur Bay
Vienneau said he and his friends couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing.
Vienneau works as a federal fisheries officer, but he stressed he was off duty when he saw the whale and his comments do not represent the government department.
He has been boating in this area since he was a child, he said, and had never seen a humpback whale there before. It is rare to see even a small fin of a black minke whale or a harbor porpoise.
The boaters and the whale took turns for about an hour, Vienneau said, along the coast toward Bathurst.
“It was impressive,” he said, estimating that the whale was probably bigger than the boat they were in, which was 25 or 30 feet.
“You never know if she comes back or not, then the next thing you know she just jumps out of the water in front of the boat.”
Vienneau uploaded a video of the meeting. It has now had more than 90,000 views, he said, and phone calls and messages are coming in steadily.
Lots of people then headed out to the water or the beach with binoculars, he said, hoping to catch a glimpse, but as far as he knows no one else did.
Nor has he heard of anyone who has ever seen a humpback whale in the Beresford area.
Vienneau thinks he may have followed a boat to Belledune Harbor or just got lost.
Gina Lonati, a whale researcher at the University of New Brunswick, agreed with Vienneau that it was a “really cool sighting”, but said it was not entirely surprising that a whale at hump is in this area.
Lonati said he participated in surveys last summer near the mouth of Chaleur Bay, closer to Shippagan and Gaspé, Quebec, and humpback whales were present there.
“They wander around looking for food,” she said, including small fish like herring, sand lance and krill, as well as plankton.
They tolerate a wide range of ocean temperatures, she said, including the relatively warm waters of the bay, as they migrate far south to breed.
And they also do not need great depths. Lonati said a colleague of his once observed a humpback whale in about three meters of water.
The water had to be “deep enough” where the video was shot, she said, for the whale to break through.
It’s impossible to tell whether it’s male or female from the video, Lonati said, and the type of behavior exhibited is typical of both.
Lonati is part of a team currently in the Shippagan area as part of a two-week research cruise.
They study whales – with a particular focus on the critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.
Right whales seem to be further east this season, she said, in the western Bradelle Valley between the Acadian Peninsula and the Magdalen Islands.
Lonati uses a drone to collect close-up images of whales.
She said she hadn’t had a chance to do it yet because of the windy weather.