Nfld. & Labrador

A whale of a sight in Notre Dame Bay

After living in Notre Dame Bay for 30 years, Byron Sheppard is surprised to see whales in January. DFO officials say it's uncommon to see so many whales so close to shore.

'It's quite amazing,' says Byron Sheppard of winter whales

Whales like this one have been spotted this winter by Byron Sheppard and others in Notre Dame Bay. (Blackawton Boat Tour)

It's not uncommon to see whales in Notre Dame Bay, but Byron Sheppard was surprised to see the animals when he looked out his window in January.

Sheppard has been living near Lewisporte Harbour in Notre Dame Bay for 30 years, but he said he has never seen them in the winter.

"We've been seeing whales now here since Jan. 3," he said. 

"That was when my daughter-in-law first saw them, and we were really surprised to see them out in the harbour, and we saw, at that time, about three or four." 

He said he has seen whales several times since then.

Sheppard said he has seen humpback whales breaching out of the water and a minke whale swimming in the harbour near where ships are moored.

"It's amazing just having a lunch and sitting down and having a coffee and looking out our patio door and here [are] whales in our backyard," he said.

"It's quite amazing."  

Sheppard said there has been talk around the town about the whales, and he is not the only one who has spotted them. 

'It's not totally unexpected'

Jack Lawson, a research scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in St. John's, said that there have been what they call "Christmas whales" spotted in the area before. 

"It's not totally unexpected up in that area, but to have so many in so close, that's unusual," he said.

Lawson said he doesn't know the exact reason why the whales would be in Notre Dame Bay at this point in the year, but an increased number of herring in Bonne Bay and Conception Bay have drawn the whales to those areas.

This whale was spotted in Bonne Bay on Newfoundland's west coast on Boxing Day. (Blackawton Boat Tours)

He also said it is difficult to predict for future years if this is a new pattern of behaviour for the whales.

While the whales might make for a pretty winter sight, Lawson expressed some concern that they may be trapped if the ice moves in.

He said at least nine whales were crushed in ice and killed off the Port aux Port Peninsula in 2014.

"If the animals stay in very close and ice forms up, say, in White Bay, or down the east coast of the Northern Peninsula, if we get a good strong north wind, it could come in and trap the animals before they have a chance to get out," he said. 

Sheppard said that the bay remains open and relatively clear of ice. 

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