‘Look! Look over there!’ shouts Cat. ‘It’s right there!’ She’s got her eye on the prize for sure. Her finger is frantically pointing forwards and stabbing at the swaying horizon ahead. My eyes are rolling around in all directions. ‘Where is it?!’ I shout. Clasping the rail, stretching onto my tippy toes, my eyes rapidly scan Saguenay-St. Lawrence’s vast waters in Quebec, Canada. I follow her finger and squint. I had my eyes lasered surely for this very moment!
I pause. I take a deep breath in. ‘Yeah…yeah that’s it!’ I exclaim to Cat. But the truth is that all I see is water. Lots of it.
The best whale watching Tadoussac has to offer
A couple of seconds later, I think I have finally spotted gold! This is my moment where I finally witness one of the world’s most beautiful creatures! I look. I lock my eyes on it. Yet all I see is a minuscule black dot bobbing up and down in the far distance.
That must be the whale! That black dot! Right?
Is this all that I am going to see?
Bear with me and read on to find out…
Whale Watching quick answers
Get your whale watching Tadoussac info quickly right here!
Who to go whale watching with: Croisieres AML Cruises
When to go whale watching: Between May and October
How to get to Tadoussac: take a guided whale watching tour directly from Quebec city
Ah Tadoussac. Quebec’s gateway to the North Shore! With 1300km of coastline it is quaint, cute and brisk! Once a fur trading post for New France, it is recognised as one of the most beautiful bays in the world.
It’s home to stunning coastal scenery, mesmerising sand dunes, over 80 species of birds and of course, is one of the top whale watching destinations! It is also home to the oldest wooden chapel in Canada (built in 1747) and the first beach library in Quebec! Cool huh?
The best whale watching Canada Tadoussac has to offer
I’ve been waiting for this moment for months. Of all the beautiful places that you can go whale watching in the world, the St. Lawrence North Shore of Quebec Canada is right up there on the list! Quebec’s St. Lawrence Marine Park has 13 species of whale in its waters. The reason Tadoussac is hitting the whale-watching lottery is because there are plenty of plankton and small fish to be feasted upon, brought in by the tides and trapped by the Laurentian Channel.
This part of the world is a one-stop-energy-shop for our marine friends and is consequentially why whale watching in Tadoussac is one of the best whale watching destinations in the world!
Yet, like we all find out in life, ideas and expectations sometimes don’t always come to life like we envision. But let me tell you this…
If everything went to plan; we would never be challenged…or be required to think on our feet…or feel gratitude for what we have in our lives already. The best whale watching in Canada is unpredictable and whether you have a feast or famine at the end of the day, is ultimately up to Mother Nature herself.
What to take for whale watching in Tadoussac Canada
To my amusement and the travel writers I’m hanging out with for this whale watching trip, we all look like fluorescent marshmallows. Our complimentary whale watching attire is thick, bulky and bright. Just check me out.
On a serious note: the temperature of the water here does not go above 4°C. This combined with the winds slapping you in the face will have you exclaiming ‘oh mon Dieu!’ when you’re speeding along the merry waves.
The whale watching cruises will certainly make sure you’re suited and booted before you hop on, but make sure you come prepared with the following in your backpack (click on the links to get them for yourself).
Your whale watching cruise list
For your clothes, make sure you have a polar fleece, long woolly pants, a raincoat, hat, a pair of gloves, a good scarf, comfortable shoes that you’re prepared to get wet and some sunscreen and sunglasses.
Thinking about coming on-board with camera equipment?
I decided to bring my Sony a6000 camera on-board with me, but quickly realised why the lovely Le Quebec Maritime team handed over their online photo library to me. If you’re coming onboard with camera equipment, be prepared for big splashes! I hugged my camera close to me underneath my jacket for most of the journey and struggled to capture a photo decent enough for the blog (it’s more difficult on a zodiac boat!). I recommend you bring a GoPro instead and try your best with your camera phone in a waterproof case (check out the packing list above!)
What to (possibly) expect whale watching!
I thought I knew what being splashed in the face repeatedly with sea water would be like, but traversing Canada’s waters in this zodiac whale watching boat took our experience to a whole new level. Brr!
At first, we laughed hysterically that we had no choice but to have a free shower on board. Then the tears started rolling down our cheeks. Then we were grimacing. Then there was just this heavy silence as we whizzed around and around on the water, with our hopes of seeing a whale slowly sinking into the depths.
Me and the bus driver who had brought us here (an absolute character obsessed with heavy metal just as much as me), appropriately named Jean (can we get anymore Canadian French?) tried to bring everyone’s’ spirits up alongside me. We belted out enthusiastic renditions of ‘Born to Be Wild’ and then ‘Highway to Hell’ to match the mood.
We also openly debated about whether Rose could have let Jack stay on that door with her when the Titanic sunk, and then pondered how being a sailor at sea might suck more than people initially think.
We twisted around in our seats to check on our fellow crew, and through all that fluorescent orange jumpsuit action, we could see their eyes peeping out from behind their hats and scarves, huddling together for cover. Not much whale watching is going on at this point – just survival!
Our naturalist is trying to keep the energy of the crew up too (bless her) – explaining what species we may encounter and how to be mindful of the animals’ welfare. Suddenly the captain decides to turn things up a notch! Revving the engine, ‘vvvvvrooooooom’, the zodiac shoots forward. We’re off!
Me and Jean let out squeals and cackles as we repeatedly nose-dive and crash land into the waves before us. Weehee! Water rollercoaster here we come!
Lighthouses, birds, seals and an extra surprise!
Swerving left and right, bombing it at full-speed, the captain brings us back down to earth and gently glides us towards what looks like a strawberry sour cocktail with a swirly red and white straw sticking out of it.
Protruding proudly from the depths, this beauty materialises…
The Prince Shaol Lighthouse, towering above us, warns approaching vessels of the undersea hazards here, whilst facing 20-foot tides! If you like architecture, this will certainly tickle the inner geek within you.
A couple more laps around and around and aaaaaround, and our time is drawing to a close. We’re frozen together in the same positions we started in, but something cheeky is about to change all that.
‘Do you see that?’ cries out my friend behind me. ‘Get your camera out!’.
A herd of seals are flapping their flippers back and forth on the rocks, chilling like absolute legends with their bird friends. I can never get over their upturned mouths and gooey eyes. Adorable rating = 100%. ‘Aww look at that’ I exclaim! But as we look through out lens and binoculars, our ‘awws’ turn to shrieks as one of our seals is literally letting it all hang out. We haven’t seen a whale yet, but we’ve certainly just witnessed Free Willy.
As we glide back into port and come to a bumpy halt, it dawns on me how soaked I am. I’d assumed that my marshmallow outfit would be waterproof, but my underwear is telling me something different. I’m wearing what now feels like a pair of knickers shoved in the top freezer drawer for an hour.
As I peel myself off my seat and start to waddle down the boardwalk back to normalcy, one of the fellow lady passengers whispers awkwardly in my ear. ‘I’m so cold I don’t think I can feel my vagina anymore’.
I hear you girl.
‘So, did you see a whale or not?’ I hear you cry…
I’m not entirely sure! What I thought was a whale could have been a whale, or unfortunately just a floating iceberg! What I kept seeing and thinking were whales in the far distance, quickly dawned on me to be just ice. One floated past me as we headed back to shore (ice that is).
I want to stress that the whales are out there; it unfortunately just wasn’t our day for it. Check out these photos for what can happen!
What tour should I see the whales with?
I braved the elements with Croisieres AML Cruises and their lovely naturalist Agathe Poitras. The zodiac whale watching excursions last 2.5 hours. The Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park is also celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2018, so another great reason to go before this year ends! I really recommended that you book your cruise in advance so that you don’t miss out!
Book your tour
Do you not have your own transport to get from Quebec city to Tadoussac?
When is whale watching Tadoussac Quebec season?
Just like the British weather pisses down one minute, then lets the sun shine through the next, spotting a whale can be the luck of the draw. However, Tadoussac is one of the luckiest places to spot a whale, so you’re in the right spot!
The best time to come for the Tadoussac whale watching season is from May to October. Sometimes it is earlier, sometimes it is later. I have been told that September and October are key months in the best whale watching season with whales-a-plenty to see and enjoy!
Make sure you visit CIMM before you get on the boat!
Before you step on any boat for your Tadoussac whale watching experience, deepen your understanding of what you’re setting out to see. Visit CIMM operated by GREMM: The Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre for some top-notch whale watching facts. They’re the most visited museum in the Côte-Nord region and the scientists are there ready and waiting for you, happy to answer any questions you have. I recommend popping in to see if they have spotted any whales on the day you are in Tadoussac. They are the experts and on the ball! Make the most of them to take your whale trail experience to the next level!
Discover how to identify your whales
With so many sea giants out there, it’s fun to learn how to identify what is what for your upcoming highly-anticipated nautical whale watching adventures. The problem with whale watching from the boat or shore, is that whales are ridiculously shy or absolute teasers (depending on how you look at it). When a whale decides to pop up to the surface of the deep blue sea, it usually only shows a small portion of its beautiful self. Which is very exciting in some ways when you think about it. There may be a fascinating giant of the sea below you, and you wouldn’t even know it.
Understand what is happening to whales for a better future!
CIMM’s scientists are determined to understand our marine mammal friends as much as possible, to help conserve them for generations to come. Past whaling practices, present chemical contamination, noise pollution and future climate change are causing serious problems in our underwater neighbourhood.
Since 1985, the scientists have been hanging out with the whales to get to know them, document them and follow their paths. They are collating extensive family albums, and yes, the whales have names too! There’s Siam the humpback whale, whose markings on the underside of its tail resemble the eyes of a Siamese cat. Then there’s Pascolio, a beluga whale which has a major deformation of the vertebral column. The scientists have known Pascolio since its adolescence. There’s a sperm whale called Tryphon too, nicknamed after the friend of cartoon character Tintin!
Top tip for visiting CIMM
Your entrance ticket is valid for 24 hours, so you can always come back after your whale watching experience to ask more questions. Ooh, and don’t leave without trying whale singing. It’s absolutely darling!
You can find CIMM at 108 de la Cale Seche, Tadoussac, Quebec, GOT 2AO. Open 12th May to 28th October. $12 admission fee. Estimated visit time: 1 hour or more
How to make sure you see the whales
In Tadoussac, you have the chance of spotting minke, fin, blue, humpback, beluga, sperm, killer and harbour porpoise whales! The killer and harbour porpoise whales are hard to spot, but you never know, it may be your lucky day!
Mother Nature is a tricky lady but coming to Tadoussac to see the whales is a great decision. Other traveller’s reviews are extremely positive, and I had a cracking time regardless.
I recommend buddying up with a friend; one of you should watch the waters with your eyes and the other should look through a pair of binoculars. Look out for whale spouts by spotting large white explosions above the water. Keep each other informed as you sail along and help each other out along with your accompanying naturalist.
I ventured to Tadoussac for my whale watching experience in the very first week of its whale watching season. The whales are still arriving at this time and getting into the swim of things (see what I did there?) so if you are looking for a higher chance of seeing a whale, remember that September and October are a better bet.
Are Quebec whale watching tours safe?
The safest whale watching is understandable done from dry land (check out Tadoussac Bay below) but is it safe on the boat? I found Croisieres AML Cruises to be highly professional and vigilant when it came to both my safety and the marine life around us. Each of their ships meets the specific Transport Canada certification, standards and regulations and all their ships and officers are certified by Transport Canada and Transport Quebec.
You will be wearing a personal flotation suit and life jackets and a lifeboat are onboard. Croisieres AML Cruises use non-explosive fuel, modern navigation equipment and each boat is fully inspected four times more frequently than required by Transport Canada.
For peace of mind, I always recommend getting travel insurance. No matter how ‘careful’ you are, things can still happen. I recommend getting your travel insurance with World Nomads. Their cover is reliable and flexible and with 24/7 emergency assistance and 140+ activities covered, you’re in safe hands.
Don’t want to get on a boat?
Is the idea of sailing on a boat something you won’t even entertain? There is an alternative!
A wooden boardwalk running from the historic chapel to the municipal wharf is another great place to go whale watching. You can soak up the coast with a gentle hike, frolic on the rocks and have a little picnic, all whilst standing a chance of spotting a humpback whale surfacing above the waters!
Related Reading: 11 Amazing Hikes in Canada, the USA and beyond
Where to stay for Tadoussac whale watching
There is a fair choice of hotels in Tadoussac to stay in, all offering different accommodation styles for different budgets
Budget option: Motel de la Pointe-aux-Bouleaux
There aren’t really any super budget options in Tadoussac itself unfortunately.
Yet I have found the Motel de la Pointe-aux-Bouleaux in Baie Sainte-Catherine to be a possible option for you! All you would have to do to get to Tadoussac is take the 10-minute free ferry across. I haven’t personally stayed here, but the reviews say the rooms are clean, with lovely views, good WiFi, and a sweet owner. Click here to find out more.
Book with this link to get $19 off your stay at Booking .com!
Midrange option: La Galouine Inn
Le Quebec Maritime Tourism kindly hosted me in La Galouine Inn which is both a restaurant and inn. They pride themselves on their aboriginal local and original ingredients and dishes from the boreal forest, harvesting and processing them themselves. They have two smokehouses and the food is good! If you decide not to stay here, I still recommend you pop in for some grub and take their medicinal Labrador tea away with you. The rooms are simple but clean and just around the corner from the restaurant. Find out more here.
Luxury option: Hotel Tadoussac
For the crème de la crème, you need to choose Hotel Tadoussac. Opening its doors in 1864, this is a landmark of Tadoussac. You cannot miss it with its bright red roof! With 150 years of history, it is quite a building to explore. Reviews say it has great views, ‘charm’ and clean facilities but quite a few are saying it is past its best. Click here to find out more.
Book with this link to get $19 off your stay at Booking .com
Have $19 on me!
How to get to Tadoussac
You can easily sail across to Tadoussac via a free 10-minute ferry from Baie-Sainte-Catherine, which is a 2.5 hour drive from Quebec City.
To get to Baie-Sainte-Catherine from Quebec, you can hire a car, take a bus with Intercar or make things easier for yourself and book a tour.
How to get to Quebec
I flew directly into Quebec from the UK. I recommend using the Skyscanner app to find the most uptodate best prices.
If you’re currently reading this in Canada; congratulations, you’re almost there! VIA Rail trains are excellent and will get you to Quebec quickly and from across many places in Canada.
Have you experienced the best whale watching Tadoussac has to offer?
Have you been whale watching before? Have you had better luck whale watching in Tadoussac compared to me? Comment below!
My whale watching experience in Tadoussac was made possible by the wonderful Le Quebec Maritime and its partners: Croisieres AML Cruises and La Galouine Inn. Opinions, as always, are mine = honest, blunt and to the point.