Le Boréal Meets Beluga Whales and Black Bear at Tadoussac

Alex our naturalist

Before Le Boréal even docks at Tadoussac, an announcement comes over the ship’s p.a. system: “Beluga whale swimming at 11 o’clock.” Everyone rushes to an open deck and aims cameras at the open sea. I can just about make out the whale – but the zoom on my camera is way too puny to get the shot.

(I’m posting late — the ship’s Internet was out for more than 12 hours because of its position in relation to the mountains.)

A number of passengers have booked the whale watching tour on a Zodiac, and I learned later that there were plenty of photo opportunities during the time they were at sea.

My tour was Bear Watching and it took place in the small village of Sacré Coeur, a 15-minute bus ride from the pier. We arrived at a property called “Domaine des Ancêtres,” which consists of a lodge, an animal orphanage and a black bear observation center.

We watched a 25-minute French documentary on the orphanage, and though I didn’t catch all the words, I understood the story: this was a place that took in baby bears who had been orphaned because their mothers had either been shot by hunters or killed in automobile accidents. Without care, these babies would die. The film showed how the baby bears were sheltered and cared for until they were old enough to be released into the wild in areas where they would not be hunted.

When the film ended, our group was joined by Alex, the naturalist who would accompany us on the 10-minute transfer to the observation center, a covered shelter from which we could watch the cleared area where – hopefully – at least one bear would appear. We walked very quietly, no talking, as we’d been instructed, to the shelter. We’d already given up our candy and gum and any food we carried because the bears could smell it.

Waiting for a bear

Food had been brought to the site in the hope that a bear would be tempted. Alex explained that as these bears live in the wild, there was no guarantee – especially as we were on the late side of their feeding season. “In July and August, we see plenty of bears here,” he added, “but now we will wait and see.”

We waited. And we waited a bit more while Alex talked about the habits of black bears and the fact that they were basically vegetarians – but would eat the carcasses of dead animals. (Therefore it’s easy to get meat to place in this clearing – it’s what local grocers are ready to throw away.)

Black bear at Tadoussac

Eventually a large adult male bear lumbered into the clearing – and once again I cursed my puny zoom and resolved to get a better one after I got home. We watched as he checked out the food, then climbed up on hind legs and began to eat. Then, apparently satisfied, he went away – but as Alex predicted, he returned after a time to snack again.

Before we left the observation area, Alex advised us on how to avoid black bears if we walk in the woods. “Talk and make noise. The bear is not confrontational – if he hears you, he will not approach. If you do see a black bear do not stand still. To the bear, that is an aggressive posture. Do not run. Instead, walk backwards, move your arms and keep talking.”

Actually I thought of a better way to avoid black bears: Stay out of the woods.

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