By Laura Churchill Duke
The population of Brier Island might only be 275, but, according to the local coast guard, more than 42,000 people visited the tiny island for whale watching last year.
We decided to be one of the thousands of families who flocked to Brier Island for a whale watching adventure. I was hesitant about taking the five- and seven-year-old boys. Would they be old enough to appreciate it? Would they get bored and run amok on board? I know a few other parents with the same concerns, so I will share our experience.
Before going, we looked up some facts about whales. The humpback whale can be up to 50 feet long, but what does that look like? We drew a line on the road and measured out the length of various whales so we could have a frame of reference before going.
We left Kentville at 8:30 a.m. and made it to the first ferry in two hours. There are two ferries to take to Brier Island and they are perfectly timed so you don’t have to wait long. It is important to leave Digby at half-past the hour to get to the first boat on time. Each ferry costs $5.50 round trip.
We arrived on Brier Island at 11 a.m., had a picnic and then hiked to Seal Cove. This was a definite highlight of the trip. The hike was not signposted, but we ran into a coast guard member who filled us in on the route.
After a 15-minute walk along the rugged coastline, we saw why it was called Seal Cove: there were more than 50 seals in the water! The best time to go is at low tide when they are all sunning on the rocks. Please do not let your children pet them, no matter how cute the pups are! The coast guard has had to rescue many a person from doing such a thing!
We boarded the tour boat at 2:30 p.m. The boat, one of many operating in the area, had an enclosed, heated downstairs with windows that slid open near water level.
Raina Noel, Kentville, also took her three kids whale watching at Brier Island for the first time this summer for a unique family experience.
“Remember that it's almost four hours of travel time before you actually see any whales (three hours in the car, one hour on the boat),” she cautions, “so it's important to have activities planned to keep the young ones entertained and occupied to stave off boredom.” However, once the whales started approaching the boat, all the boredom of travel time was forgotten!
“We followed a group of five whales for a long time, then we moved on, and found another group of three,” said Noel.
“My most favourite part,” said Lauren, eight, “was when the baby whale stuck her head out of the water to say hello to everyone on the boat!"
When you go, bring sunscreen and warm clothes, even on sunny days, as out on the water it can be quite breezy and cold.
“Bring Gravol for those who know their children are prone to sea sickness, because three hours on a boat can be a lot to handle!” suggested Noel. Take lots of snacks and drinks, a few activity books for the downtimes and binoculars if you have them.
If you have your dog with you, there is a dog sitting service in Westport on Wellington Street that will look after your furry friend while you are on the tour.
The last whale watching tours run Sept. 21, but the whales usually stay around until early October. The seals are there year-round. Even without whale watching, you can still enjoy bird and seal watching, hiking and beautiful scenery on a visit. I’ve heard that local lobster fisherman will also take you along with them in the winter if you want to brave it!
“We loved the experience so much we plan to go again next year,” says Noel. And, in the words of her three children, it was, “the best day ever!”
Laura Churchill Duke definitely considers whale watching great family fun! Despite the fog, her family was able to follow mama and baby humpbacks around the Bay.