SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 16, September 2016 - Page 128

When you think of snorkeling with humpback whales, you usually picture doing it in a tropical climate, like Tonga, Hawai’i or the Dominican

Republic—but what if I told you that you could dive with whales in cold water? Off Newfoundland? And that you’ll love it?

The first time I learned of Ocean Quest Adventures was through its founder, Rick Stanley, giving a presentation called “Whales and Icebergs” at the Boston Sea Rovers dive conference in 2014. (How could anyone resist such an intriguing title?) Stanley showed slides and video of huge primeval cliffs and sea caves, breaching whales in auras of spray, jubilant snorkelers, and massive icebergs that glowed with blue shadows. I emailed the link immediately to my sister Meredith whom I love to travel with: “Put this on your list!”

Fast forward two years and Meredith and I have made it happen: we are on the North Atlantic, riding sidesaddle on the rubbery rounded edge of a Zodiac, gripping the ropes like they are reins as a skipper who is an off-duty Canadian Coast Guardsman pilots the boat over eight-foot waves. We whoop with exhilaration as he pitches out over the face of each wave, quiets the engine, and brings the boat gracefully down into the trough. We are in a flying steeplechase, going whaling in a good way—outfitted in thick neoprene, off to observe some humpbacks in their summer feeding grounds.

Ocean Quest Adventures has its base in Conception Bay, Newfoundland. Its whaleboats depart from Petty Harbor, the location of the film Orca, and if you have seen that moody 1970s film, the scenery is already familiar to you: the bright pale blues and rich reds of the fishing buildings and houses against the deep boreal background, with heavy, rich mist clinging in dense clouds above the water.

Stanley offers kayaking excursions among the Devonian sea cliffs of Newfoundland’s coast, iceberg voyages when you can still catch some ‘bergs in the early summer, and deep-sea wreck dives that are a marine archaeology of the province’s seafaring past. Meredith and I, however, came dedicated to the whales, staying for a week in the OceanQuest lodge, eating in its communal kitchen, waiting each morning for the safe call to go out on the water. It’s a good idea to set aside several days for flexibility in case the weather is prohibitive.

Which the weather easily can be: make no mistake about it—these are Viking seas. The color of the water’s surface is mineral: a deep blue-green slate that has facets like shards of obsidian. When it’s churned by bubbles in a wake or a bubble ring, it is the color of Mylanta, a fact that I pointed out to Meredith which made her roll her eyes at me even though she knew exactly what I was talking about. Beneath the surface, you slip into yet another realm: dark, limitless turquoise, nutrient-dense with fairy-alien invertebrates th