Cape Breton's Whales A Spectacular Sightseeing Experience

whale in Ingonish

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Cape Breton, Nova Scotia is renowned for its stunning natural beauty, and one of the best ways to experience it is by going whale watching, for the chance to witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.

We hope to answer some of the most common questions about when, where, and how to see Cape Breton's whales, a spectacular sightseeing experience.

whale watching

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When is the best time to see whales?

Nova Scotia is a popular destination for whales to feed and breed during the summer months. The first whales start to arrive in late spring and typically stay until autumn, with most leaving by early October.

The main whale-watching season in Cape Breton is from June to September, with August usually being the peak month for whale sightings. However, whale migration patterns can vary yearly and between species. So, if you have your heart set on seeing a particular type of whale, it's best to do some research on where the whales tend to be and plan your trip accordingly. 

summer time whale watching

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Where can I see whales in Cape Breton?

Fortunately, whales can be spotted in a few different ways. With a bit of luck, whales can be spotted from shore. There are several popular whale-watching viewpoints along the legendary Cabot Trail, notably the MacKenzie Mountain Look-off. The Cabot Trail offers one of the rare opportunities to see whales from the land, and visitors frequently observe whales spouting in the Gulf of St. Lawrence from the viewing decks on the headland cliff at the end of the Skyline Trail. Other good whale-watching spots include Lakies Head Lookoff and Green Cove Trail. 

map for whale watching

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From June to October, stop by the Pleasant Bay Whale Interpretive Centre for more information.

If a more up-close and personal whale watching experience is your preference, Cape Breton is home to multiple local tour operators. Cape Breton prides itself on responsible stewardship and conservation of whales, and the Whale Watching Tour operators are often involved with marine research, to support the preservation of critical habitats and ensure safe, memorable experiences for guests. 

Each operator runs on a different seasonal schedule based on the reliability of whale activity in their local area. One thing to note is that June is usually the worst month for fog, which can occasionally cause tour cancellations. 

Make sure to contact the individual operators for their current rates, hours and to reserve your seat, and ask if the boats are equipped with hydrophone equipment, which allows guests to hear the whales during the tour!

whale watching center

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How do I know I’m seeing a whale?

Whether you are on land or out on the water, observing these marine mammals can be a rewarding and unforgettable experience. However, it requires some skill and a whole lot of patience. 

One important tip is to learn to recognize clues that indicate the presence of whales nearby. For example, if you see seabirds diving in large numbers, it could mean there’s food in the area that may attract whales. Small fish often gather in large groups, which in turn attract whales looking for a meal. So, keep an eye out for seabird activity as it could be a sign that whales are nearby.

Another clue to look out for is tide rips. These are areas where the water is choppy and a different color due to the concentration of prey. Whales often gather in tide rips to take advantage of the abundance of food. So, if you spot a tide rip, be sure to keep a lookout as there may be whales feeding in the area.

Even though whales are large in size, they can be easily missed by someone who is not paying attention. They only come to the surface for a short amount of time to breathe before staying underwater for extended periods. To increase your chances of seeing whales, make sure to keep a close watch on the water and scan the horizon. The sight of a spout or a back-breaking of the water's surface could indicate their presence. While binoculars can help spot whales from a distance, they are not as effective as using your naked eye, which allows for a wider field of view.

Patience is key when it comes to whale watching. Whales can be elusive creatures and may not always make an appearance when you expect them to. So, be prepared to spend some time scanning the horizon and waiting for that magical moment when a whale breaches the surface.


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Which species of whales will I see?

Whales are migratory, and in the warmer months it’s possible to spot between up to thirteen species. The specific species can vary depending on the year and food patterns. Go to this link to see some of the species visitors encounter  Each species has its own unique time and reason for being in the waters off Cape Breton, with some staying for shorter or longer periods depending on the availability of food.


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Whether viewing from the shore or the deck of a boat, visitors to Cape Breton should always keep their eyes out for lively harbor seals, rare 'gentle giant' basking sharks, gigantic Atlantic bluefin tuna, and even leatherback turtles! Not to mention the adorable Atlantic puffins, black and white razorbills, voracious northern gannets, and much more incredible wildlife. 

So, when you visit Cape Breton next, be sure to experience the awe-inspiring beauty of whales in their natural habitat. Not only will you be sustainably supporting local communities, but you'll also create memories that will last a lifetime. Happy whale watching!


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