finback whale
Photo by Eric Mouellic

Giant fin whale surfaces inches from Quebec tour boat

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Some Canadians will go their whole lives without witnessing a fin whale in its natural habitat, but a French tourist captured an incredible, up-close video of one on his first visit.

Eric Mouellic and his family were whale-watching near Tadoussac, Quebec, at the junction of the Saguenay and St. Lawrence rivers, when the whale surfaced next to their boat.

“We were really lucky,” Mouellic told CBC News. “Within 15 minutes of our departure, we saw porpoises, seals, belugas, and several [fin] whales.” 

He and the rest of the boaters were also lucky they made it back to shore alive. One of the fin whales, which are known as the world’s second largest mammal, nearly struck the boat when it came out of the water.

Although the encounter did make Mouellic nervous, he managed to keep his camera steady as the giant, dark grey creature inched closer and exposed its pleated underbelly.

In the video, there’s a mix of fearful and excited screams coming from the passengers, akin to what you’d hear walking through an amusement park. Fortunately, the 18-metre-long, 50-tonne mammal slid right underneath them, with one of its fins just shy of the vessel. 

“You notice that the whale avoided hurting the boat. They don’t like to hit anything on the surface. That’s why the whale turned … on its side,” Patric Corbel, the education director of the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals, told CBC News.

According to Corbel, fin whales feed as deep as 100 metres. They’ll come up to the water’s surface for three or four breaths before taking the plunge, which is likely what this one was doing.

“All of the whales come here for one reason: They come here to feed,” he said, referring to humpbacks, fin whales, minke, and sometimes even North American right whales and killer whales.

It’s just one reason the region, a large conservation area managed by the provincial and federal governments, is considered one of the world’s premier whale-watching destinations. Even so, the boat’s operator told passengers that he hadn’t seen anything like it in 15 years. 

Operators do their best to keep a safe distance from the whales, and have even signed an agreement to say they’ll practice responsible boating to avoid disturbing them. Unfortunately no one in the boat, not even the driver, expected this whale to get as close as it did.

“The whale doesn’t know the rules!” Corbel said.

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