Kayaking With Whales
“Just a little bit closer,” I whisper to myself. A puffin nearly fills the entire viewfinder of my camera. Finally, after spending all morning drifting closer to the shy seabirds, I’m about to get a good photo. Just as I press the shutter-release button, I feel the back of my kayak being lifted out of the water. Whipping the camera away from my face, I pivot around to see a large black shape under my stern. Incredibly, a minke whale has surfaced directly beneath me.
“Go down. Go down gently,” I plead as adrenaline races through me. Fortunately, the giant slips gently below the waves and disappears. That was just too close. Stashing my camera away, I paddle madly out of the cove, where millions of capelin have attracted both the seabirds and the cetacean. Like the capelin, I had thought it was too shallow for whales. Wrong!
This trip was organized through Stan Cook Sea Kayaking, www.wildnfld.ca, (888) 747-6353.
Capelin are tiny shiny fish at the bottom of the food chain around Cape Broyle, Newfoundland. In one spot, I paddle over an immense school so dense that the sea is turned into an undulating mass of silver. I’m awed by the spectacle, but kayaking guide Stan Cook tells me it’s nothing like it used to be.
The next day, we drive north to Conception Bay, where we hope to find some big icebergs close to shore. On the way, I notice that the small villages are clustered near the coast, focused on the sea. The road snakes into town from behind like an afterthought.
We pull into a gravel lot beside a fish-packing plant and soon have our kayaks in the water. Out on the blue-gray bay float three white mountains of ice. Approaching the nearest iceberg, we hear a strange crunching sound coming from its far side. Continuing around the berg, we are confronted by a seagoing contraption unlike any I’ve ever seen. It consists of a black barge topped by a yellow backhoe armed with powerful steel jaws instead of a bucket. The jaws reach out to bite off chunks of ice. With each mouthful, the insatiable machine spins on its axis and drops the load into its cold hold. Letters on the side of the barge identify its function – Iceberg Harvester. Cook tells me that the cargo will be used in the production of aptly named Iceberg Vodka.
Leaving the ice-gobbling apparatus behind, we point our kayaks toward the next iceberg, passing rafts of small bergy bits en route. Those that recently broke off from the bigger bergs sizzle and fizz, sounding like a giant soda. Soon, an enormous white-and-blue ice mountain towers above us. Small waterfalls pour off its sides, tinkling into the slapping waves. Looking down into the crystal-clear water, we can see an immense ghostly white shape stretching far below. At depth it turns to blue, then black, then disappears. Remembering that 90 percent of an iceberg is supposedly underwater, I try to calculate how much ice lies unseen below. Nearly half the iceberg has a glassy smooth surface, previously hidden below the waterline, indicating that it has recently rolled over.