The quest for a blue whale, part I

I spent years trying to see a blue whale in Quebec – and I plan to return this summer for more of the same. Paddling in the fjord at Tadoussac – the Saguenay River – is really eerie, as it’s 900 feet deep, dark, gloomy, and full of spouting whales. It’s also the most spectacular place I’ve ever seen – even more than the Golden Gate.  A geologist might find it an especially  interesting place because of the theory of its creation: some think it had a catastrophic origin – possibly a tectonic plate shift or earthquake that created it. They know mere erosion probably wouldn’t have.

Anyway, it was maybe four years ago I put out from a place called Grandes-Bergeronne, 40 miles east of Tadoussac  and the Saguenay. There is an enclosed harbor there, and I knew that this would be my only – remote thought it was – chance to see a blue whale from a kayak. I had seen a blue the day before from a zodiac and wanted to experience the whale from my boat. The grim-faced harbor master had warned me to be careful.

He’d a good reason. There, the St. Lawrence is 26 or more miles wide – it’s perhaps the widest river in the world and has shipping lanes that see a lot of traffic. At 26 miles, you are often quite far from land, or rather the closest land is straight down.  Imagine walking that distance. So do you think 10 miles is near land if you had to walk it? It takes six inches face down of water to drown….The winds were blowing off-shore, which means they’re great if you’re paddling out, but on the return, worse than facing a bill collector.

The water here is cold in August – like 50 degrees and will kill you very quickly and I wore a wetsuit and gloves in a feeble gesture at self preservation. The water is also deep, and lacquer box dark colored, and eerie, and you can’t see down more than a foot or two. You know there are all sorts of whales and other creatures swimming underneath you can’t see. I’ve paddled up there four or five times and sometimes being alone there is unnerving. I’ve watched whales swim right within a few yards of me – then  dive below my inflatable nine-foot kayak and I can’t see them.

In any case, Grandes-Bergeronne offered a chance to see a blue whale. Keep in mind the place creates optical illusions – not as much as the Arctic, but there are tricks to the eye. Things can appear big on the water there and they aren’t. Your eyes are compressing things over 26 miles and you don’t see everything….and the sounds are deceptive. You hear whales spouting and they could be miles away and you think they are close to your kayak.

So anyway, I saw a whale in the distance through my binoculars and was paddling towards it. I’d been out an hour and a half. I noted that I was moving more quickly than I  wanted from shore,and I was maybe two miles out. The wind was starting to pick up and then it gusted. And gusted some more. I was in an ebb tide and moving very fast out to sea.