The waters off Pleasant Bay are rich with marine life, making it one of the best places in the province to see the cetaceans – whales, dolphins, and porpoises - that call this part of the Gulf of the St. Lawrence home. Our whales arrive in the spring, shortly after the pack ice disappears and around the time that lobster fishing begins
— Elizabeth Zwamborn MSc, PhD Candidate, Whitehead Lab, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia

In Conversation…

with Elizabeth Zwamborn

Elizabeth Zwamborn has been working with The Cape Breton Pilot Whale Project. She has graciously offered information and amazing pictures for our guests to experience what Pleasant Bay has to offer visitors looking to do some sight seeing on the water!

Thank you Elizabeth!

Elizabeth, can you take us through typical migration patterns of the species that frequent the waters off of Pleasant Bay? We would like for visitors to have an understanding of the variety of marine life and the times year they can expect to catch a glimpse of these species during they stay in Pleasant Bay.

“May and June: minke whales are most common, with the occasional pass through of larger baleen whales such as fin and humpback whales. If you watch closely, our smallest cetacean can also be found in large numbers at this time of year – the shy, but active harbour porpoise. — Elizabeth Zwamborn

Around the end of June long-finned pilot whales begin to arrive, following the onshore migration of their favorite prey, the short-fin squid! For the next few months these pilot whales forage and travel through the area in family groups known as “social units” – which consist of a mother and all her offspring that will stay together for life. It is during this part of year that they give birth to the majority of their calves in these warmer, sheltered waters. Pleasant Bay and its neighbour ports are home to the only study of long-finned pilot whales in Canada, which is conducted by researchers from Dalhousie University and has been going on since 1998. While pilot whales and minke whales are the most common species along our coastline throughout the summer months. — Elizabeth Zwamborn

There are several other species that are seen less frequently each year, including Atlantic white-sided dolphins, fin whales, and humpback whales. During late August and September giant ocean sunfish and Leather-back sea turtles also visit this coastline. While many of our whales and dolphins are found off Pleasant Bay into the month of September, the prevailing winds at this time of year means that it could be a few days before it’s nice enough to get out on the water. By October, many of our cetacean species begin to leave the area, though regular sightings of pilot, minke, fin, and humpback whales do continue late into the fall season.

Other cetacean species that have been documented in this area, but considered extremely rare, are beluga whales, white-beaked dolphins, common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, right whales, blue whales, sei whales, killer whales, and sperm whales. If you happen to visit during windy weather or are interested in learning about whales without having to go out on the water, check out the Pleasant Bay Whale Interpretive Centre. 

Researching your whale-watching options before you took a tour can ensure that you find a responsible company that takes into consideration the well-being of wildlife viewed as well as your personal experience. If you are interested in more information regarding local cetacean species, you can look up The Cape Breton Pilot Whale Project online for their website and Facebook page.

— Elizabeth Zwamborn