On a boat charter out of St. Anthony’s on the eastern side of the northernmost tip of Newfoundland, I was delighted to see several icebergs sailing along in a “tub” of pastel green water, the shade of a luna moth!
From March until July, icebergs draw tourists to the coasts of Newfoundland. They originate from glaciers off west Greenland where some 30-40,000 are calved annually. Carried north around Baffin Bay, they do not appear in Newfoundland’s waters until their second year at sea, blown with the wind at an average speed of 0.7 kph.
Often as high as a 15-storey building, the icebergs weigh about one million tons or more. If they are blown in the direction of an oil rig, the oil company will tow them elsewhere. Our captain knew not to go too close to the bergs as they can flip over without warning, or split apart. Another danger is the fact that seven-eighths of the iceberg is below the surface. We all know from the ill-fated Titanic how dangerous ice bergs can be.
Made up of pure, freshwater, icebergs around Newfoundland will journey approximately 800 more miles before they melt completely.
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The humpback whales dove close beside our boat and around the icebergs for the whole three hours of our outing. The captain told us they were feeding on krill, small shrimp-like crustaceans, and various kinds of small schooling fish. As each whale eats up to 1 and 1/2 tons of food a day, they were certainly busy, and I was busy photographing them!
Humpback whales, over 50 feet in length, arrive in Newfoundland’s waters in April, returning from wintering in the Caribbean. It will be October before they head back south. The common name is derived from the curving of their back when they dive. Because humpbacks are often easily approachable, curious, easily identifiable as individuals, and display many behaviours, they have become the mainstay of whale-watching tourism in many locations around the world, which is referred to as “eco-tourism.”
The crew used the positions of hands on a clock to alert us where to look when they spotted a whale. “Twelve o’clock” meant a whale was near the front of the boat. “Six o’clock” meant it was behind the boat, and so on.
I never thought till I was back home about the possibility that the huge creatures could have capsized us! They were so close that some passengers got their cameras wet when the whales spouted. Their long, pectoral fins almost touched our boat! It was truly a special excursion. Even the captain was as excited as a kid, snapping pictures with the rest of us, while his son took over the controls!
An amazing thing about the humpbacks is that they sing. The males sing the most complex songs, lasting 10-20 minutes, and repeat them for hours. The songs change gradually from year to year. Listen in:
May the painting bring you a sense of both the serene voyage of the frosty iceberg, in contrast to the mighty action of the humpback whale – Magnets of Newfoundland.
Other paintings in this Newfoundland series:
1. Gros Morne
2. Splashing Thru the Crags
3. The Old Sentinel (in LANDSCAPES)
4. Ten Little Puffins