Anyone planning to go whale-watching in Nova Scotia will want to know the best time of year to see whales in the region. This will in turn depend on the whales’ travel plans: their migration patterns will affect when it is possible to see them. Whales migrate for a range of reasons, including food supply, changes in water temperature and breeding seasons. In Nova Scotia, generally, the best time is from spring until autumn. This varies from species to species, and local tour operators will be able to give advice on this.
The blue whale, the largest living mammal known on earth, prefers the deeper waters of the ocean to coastal areas. It can be seen around Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, although more rarely than some other whales, for example the humpback whale. In summer, blue whales migrate thousands of kilometres to the cooler polar waters, where they feed for several months on the plentiful supply of krill and other food. In winter, they migrate towards warmer tropical waters, where they mate and where the females give birth. This warmer water is important as their young are born with just a thin layer of blubber, which thickens as they mature. During the migration trip to warmer waters, blue whales eat very little, relying mainly on body fat reserves built up during their feeding time in cooler waters. On migration journeys back to cooler waters, young whales are fed milk by their mother.
Around Nova Scotia, the humpback whales start to arrive at the start of June and are generally most abundant in mid-June. The most likely place to see them is the Bay of Fundy, and to a lesser extent Cape Breton. In between migration, they prefer shallow waters, where they can often be seen. This species of whale is particularly well known for its acrobatic breaching, slapping the water with their flippers, and for their singing.
Like the blue whale, humpback whales make vast migration journeys between colder seas for feeding and warmer breeding regions. They are capable of travelling at 5 miles per hour, but when migrating they travel more slowly, because they stop to rest and to socialise.
Orca (or Killer Whale)
Although orcas are more plentiful in cooler waters, they can be found in all the world’s oceans. They differ in migration from the humpback and blue whales, in that they don’t follow a regular migration pattern, instead seeming to follow food availability. Also, unlike many other whales, they roam freely from one hemisphere to the other. They have different population patterns, some being resident in one area, others moving between different areas. This makes it harder to say when would be a good time to see them in Nova Scotia. However, one orca has become quite famous in the maritime region. Ol’ Tom, as this particular orca is known, has been spotted regularly off the Nova Scotia coast over a number of years. He has a particular marking on his dorsal fin by which he is identified. Unusually, he does not seem to be part of a pod, travelling alone. Also unusual is that he is often seen swimming with dolphins, a creature it is not unknown for orcas to hunt for food!