Puffins and Whales in Newfoundland

O’Briens Whale & Bird Tours and Gatherall's Boat Tours

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So Many Puffins And Whales In Newfoundland

We were excited when we had several opportunities for puffins and whales in Newfoundland. Our excursion with O’Briens Whale & Bird Tours and Gatherall’s Boat Tours provided a feast for the eyes. But we had whale sightings in other spots when we explored around St. John’s and then did a day trip to Trinity and Bonavista.

On our visit to Newfoundland, we never tired of finding new spots for sightings!

Booking An Excursion To See Puffins And Whales

We did whale watching in many places – California, British Columbia and the Azores in Portugal. On this road trip around Eastern Canada, our first whale watching trip from Tadoussac in Quebec got us beluga whales. That excursion was ok. But we knew we did not want to miss the whale watching season in Newfoundland.

When we looked at options for tours, we first decided to do an excursion on our day trip to Trinity and Bonavista. There were several options available. But the day trip to Bonavista from St. John’s was more than 8 hours with scenic stops. And that was without a whale watching tour in the middle of the day.

When we looked for alternatives, it was quickly evident that the Witless Bay area was another great option for tours. On our stay in St. John’s, the fog stayed around until about 3pm. So when we found a tour at 5pm, we quickly booked two spots. We hoped this also meant a less crowded boat tour for puffins and whales in Newfoundland.

Coastal Route To Bay Bulls Through Petty Harbour

We left St. John’s and headed off along the coastal route. We looked for small fishing villages that might show us iconic Newfoundland scenes. We stopped in Petty Harbour and saw the colourful houses that headed up the hills. There were colourful fishing boats in the harbour. And boat murals on the walls.

Petty Harbour.jpg

Petty Harbour.jpg

When we pulled into Bay Bulls, we first went down to the harbour. The Mishell mermaid statue welcomed us.

Bay Bulls Marina Mermaid Mischell - Puffins and Whales in Newfoundland Canada.jpg

We booked our tour with Gatherall’s Boat Tours but we knew that the boat for the day was an O’Briens tour boat. When we stopped in the O’Briens shop in the harbour, they directed us up the hill to the Gatherall’s shop. In discussion with the boat captain Joe O’Brien we learned that Gatherall’s and O’Briens worked together for the last two years and marketed as O’Briens Whale & Bird Tours and as Gatherall’s Boat Tours.  So book with either and get a great team effort!

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We checked in and got our tickets for the short wait for the boat to depart. As we hoped, the boat was not crowded at all. Although it did not always appear that way when something was spotted off a certain part of the boat!

Rugged Newfoundland Shore

The boat pulled out and moved slowly up through Bay Bulls. As we moved along, we got a great glimpse at the rocky and rugged shoreline. It was not hard to see why Newfoundland was often called “The Rock”.

The rocks sheared at 45 degrees in layers. Caverns and deep crevices went back into the rocks. We knew that scuba diving along this shore would be amazing. If downright frigid!

Bay Bulls Shoreline.jpg

Bay Bulls Shoreline.jpg

It was great to see the rocky shores of Newfoundland from the water on our excursion for puffins and whales in Newfoundland.

Puffins And More On Gull Island

Gull Island was at the mouth of the bay between Bay Bull and Witless Bay. We slowly approached the shoreline and immediately heard the dull roar of birds. The bird poop made much of the island white.

Gatheralls OBriens Whale & Bird Tour Gull Island.jpg

Gatheralls OBriens Whale & Bird Tour Gull Island.jpg

The tour guide Noah talked to us about the birds on this island. High on the rocks we saw the puffins. As we looked down lower, we saw the common murres. They looked a bit like small penguins to us. And swooping around the shores were petrols that looked like grey gulls.

Gatheralls Boat Tours And OBriens Whale & Bird Tour Gull Island - Puffins and Whales in Newfoundland Canada.jpg

Gatheralls Boat Tours And  OBriens Whale & Bird Tour Gull Island - Puffins and Whales in Newfoundland Canada.jpg

I must admit that without binoculars or a zoom lens, I really could not see the puffins. The zoom on my iPhone only got me so much detail! But David had his good zoom lens and was determined to fulfill my desire to see puffins. He shot non-stop and hoped that some of the hundreds of shots got me my puffin pics. And I was not disappointed.

Gatheralls Boat Tours And  OBriens Whale & Bird Tour Gull Island Puffins - Puffins and Whales in Newfoundland Canada.jpg

Gatheralls Boat Tours And  OBriens Whale & Bird Tour Gull Island Puffins - Puffins and Whales in Newfoundland Canada.jpg

We circled Gull Island. From that perspective, the birds seemed to swarm in the air. It was a little bit like the Hitchcock movie “The Birds”. The first stop on our tour for puffins and whales in Newfoundland left us excited to see more.

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The Whales Came To Us

After Gull Island, we headed offshore. On an earlier tour, Captain Joe found whales. So he headed back to that area. Soon we saw whale spouts in the distance and knew we were headed in the right direction.

When we were close the boat slowed to a crawl and moved towards the spouts and then the captain shut down the engine. Captain Joe moved up on the fly bridge as the whale spotter and proceeded to do a running commentary throughout. The water was flat and he easily spotted when the whales came close to the surface. We all scrambled in that direction.

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We were not sure who was more curious – us or them. They lazily swam past one by one or in a group. Several bopped up and showed us their noses, spy hopping. We never saw whale features so close up – noses, nostrils, mouths and their barnacled surfaces. When it was time to dive, they flipped us a tail and went down.

Gatheralls Boat Tours And  OBriens Whale & Bird Tour Gull Island Whales - Puffins and Whales in Newfoundland Canada.jpg

Gatheralls Boat Tours And  OBriens Whale & Bird Tour Gull Island Whales - Puffins and Whales in Newfoundland Canada.jpg

Gatheralls Boat Tours And  OBriens Whale & Bird Tour Gull Island Whales.jpg

Gatheralls Boat Tours And  OBriens Whale & Bird Tour Gull Island Whales - Puffins and Whales in Newfoundland Canada.jpg

In no time at all, we had one, then two and then four whales coming up to the boat.

Gatheralls Boat Tours And  OBriens Whale & Bird Tour Gull Island Whales - Puffins and Whales in Newfoundland Canada.jpg

Gatheralls Boat Tours And  OBriens Whale & Bird Tour Gull Island Whales - Puffins and Whales in Newfoundland Canada.jpg

We were amazed at how close the whales were to our boat. At times the spray from their spouts was so close, my sunglasses got wet.

Gatheralls OBriens Whale & Bird Tour Gull Island Whales.jpg

Gatheralls OBriens Whale & Bird Tour Gull Island Whales.jpg

Gatheralls OBriens Whale & Bird Tour Gull Island Whales - Puffins and Whales in Newfoundland Canada.jpg

Gatheralls OBriens Whale & Bird Tour Gull Island Whales.jpg

A Great Time Out On The Water

Most of the time, we did not even have to move. The whales came right back up where the boat was. Captain Joe enticed us to call to the whales. A few times we moved a little when they drifted off. But the whales were content to give us a show until the sun started to sink.

Gatheralls OBriens Whale & Bird Tour Gull Island Whales - Puffins and Whales in Newfoundland Canada.jpg

Gatheralls OBriens Whale & Bird Tour Gull Island Whales.jpg

Even Captain Joe seemed excited by how many whales we found on our trip. He even posed with April for a pic with the whales he chased for decades.

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The boat finally headed back in. We saw whales spouting as we went but we did not chase any more. At the shop we posed for our final tour pic.

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Extending Our Stay In Bay Bulls

When we left the tour shop, we wandered along the shore for more great views of the coastline.

Bay Bulls Shoreline.jpg

We were happy to miss dinner for our amazing tour for whales and puffins in Newfoundland. But we did not pass on another Bull Bays treat. Saphire Scoops Ice Cream Shop provided a great selection of ice creams. The best ice cream sundaes we had in a long while – caramel for me and chocolate for David!

Bay Bulls Sapphire Scoops Sundae - Puffins and Whales in Newfoundland Canada.jpg

We found lots of treats when we chased puffins and whales in Newfoundland.

Other Puffin And Whale Sightings In Newfoundland

We were spoiled with our whale sightings on our tour. But that was not the only time we saw whales close to shore. Although even with a zoom lens we did not get the same kind of view. On our visit to the lighthouse at Cape Spear, we heard the whales first as they spouted water. And sure enough, when we looked out the were feeding just off the shore.

When we did a day trip to Trinity and Bonavista, we enjoyed the lighthouse and the stunning rocks. But we soon discovered that the rocks were the launching point for puffins to sail out over the sea. On our tour, we learned that puffins did not really fly well and needed to launch themselves. They beat their wings at 300 beats per minute to keep in the air. It was fun to watch them fly by.

But puffins weren’t the only thing we found at Bonavista. Off the shore, we first saw the whale watching boats we originally planned to join. And close to them we saw whale spouts. It looked like the whales were playing out at sea. We were sure the whale watching tour got a great show.

When we left Newfoundland, we took the ferry from Argentia. We stayed on deck when we were still within sight of land, We hoped to see whales and found none. But we think we saw a group of puffins on the sea and were not sure how they would ever get launched!

It was fun to look for puffins and whales in Newfoundland. While our great tour spoiled us, we were still excited when we knew there were puffins and whales nearby as we toured around the island.

Such Great Views Of Puffins And Whales In Newfoundland

We had a couple of things we did not want to miss on our visit to Newfoundland. Puffins and whales in Newfoundland was top of the list. So we were happy we got some great experiences on our trip to Eastern Canada.

Did you see puffins and whales in Newfoundland? Where was your best spot for viewings?

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About TravelAtWill 646 Articles
Travel blogger and photographer! Scuba diving, luxury cruising, chocoholic, sea and sunshine addicts, camera attached and just generally curious! Join us on our adventures!

65 Comments

  1. Omg your pictures of newfoundland are stunning! I love all of the cute puffins and can’t believe how many whales you were able to see!

  2. This is absolutely gorgeous. The older I get, the more I appreciate seeing wildlife in its natural habitat. Therefore, I’d love to see those cute puffins. Also, I haven’t seen whales yet. I always missed the right season.

  3. That really sounds like an out of the world experience. It also reminds me of Enid Blyton’s adventure series and one was on a puffin island. It’s so pleasurable to see the birds and animals in their own habitat.

  4. I love that the title starts with “So Many,” haha. Petty Harbour looks incredible, too. I can understand why you stopped there, and the whales were happy you did too :).

  5. Those puffins are adorable! A good zoom lens seems to be a worthy investment. I’m surprised how close the whales got to the boat! I’ve always been hesitant to try a whale watching tour because what if you don’t see any whales? I guess the captain knows where to go if they’ve been doing this for decades. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Puffins are adorable. I would love to see them and I think the excursions you picked are a great way to do that. And the whale sitings are a bonus.

  7. This is making me so excited for my big move to Canada and the road trip we are planning. I love whale watching, you got some fantastic pictures there. Love the one of the whale fluking.

  8. We are planing a visit to New Foundland for next summer! Hopefully we will see puffins and whales. We just spent three weeks in Iceland and went on a whale watching tour, but did not see any whales. Well, some dolphins. And the puffins were already done with breeding and had left….Your pictures made me hopeful for next summer!

    • I am glad to have provided a great tease for your visit to Newfoundland. We too have done many whale watching trips and been disappointed. This trip gave us both puffins and whales in abundance.

  9. A very exciting post on Puffins and whales across Newfoundland.The waterspout from the whale’s back and the barnacles sticking to it is the sight I’m waiting to see in my lifetime. And the yummy ice cream adds fun to the sight. Thank you for sharing💕

      • So envious of your trip. Would love to see puffins (which I’ve loved since childhood) and whales up close. Thank you so much for the photos. Had to laugh at your mention of everyone running to that side of the boat, On a cruise to Hawaii on the last day before heading back across the Pacific, someone finally spotted a whale in the distance. It was very funny to see us all running to that side of the boat. Of course, on a huge ship, that imbalance barely made an impression. But we had a good laugh at ourselves taking part in that frantic process, even for such a fleeting glimpse.

        • I am glad to share our great puffin and whale adventure in Newfoundland. We have been on many such whale watching trips and this was one of the better ones. When I did the videos, I muted the captain’s commentary for most of it. But he was hilarious egging us on during the trip.

  10. This looks like a lot of fun! Before COVID hit I was planning on visiting this area, but sadly was not able to. I love the images of the whales and puffins. I went on a puffin cruise in Maine and we were not as fortunate with finding them. We caught a glimpse of only one or two. But it looks like you had a great time and got to see lots! I will have to add this to my list!

  11. Wow it’s such a wonderful journey. The Puffins all together looks such a great sight. And whales approaching the boats is so exciting a thought. The view at Bay Bulls harbour near the Mishell Mermaid statueis so pleasing.

  12. Wow firstly what beautiful shots of the whales. It looks like they came really close to the boat. I usually go on whale watching trips every year to see them as I love them a lot. Also, seeing puffins must have been amazing. I have never seen them till date, something I will definitely look for when I visit Newfoundland.

  13. Newfoundland is the only province we missed in Eastern Canada. These photos and account make me feel more regret having skipped it. And the whales even came to you! So many of them!

  14. What an incredible experience! The puffins look adorable! I’d love to see puffins and whales in Newfoundland, I’ll add it to the bucket list for when we visit! Thanks for the great guide!

  15. What a fantastic day getting to see both puffins and whales! I’ve never seen a puffin in person but I’d love to see these pretty birds with their colorful beaks. I think missing dinner to see them and those stunning cliffs was worth it especially as you got those ice creams!

    • We had several opportunities to see puffins from afar on this visit to Newfoundland. Just made me want to find a spot where we can get closer. Need to go back and find that spot!

  16. What an amazing adventure! I just love seeing animals in their natural environment. It is such a treat to watch them! The puffins are just so cute, too!

  17. What an excellent adventure! There is nothing like being with whales on the water and you got some amazing photos! I love the puffin pictures too. The most I have ever seen were on Skellig Michael in Ireland. Sailing here in Puget Sound I have only ever seen one. They are the cutest birds. Thanks for more inspiration to go to Newfoundland!

  18. I’d love to go puffin watching! They are so adorable. My husband and I were going to go puffin watching while we were in Maine this fall, but it’s not the right time of year. Thanks for sharing your expereince!

  19. Oh my goodness the Puffins are absolutely adorable. I went whale watching a few summers ago up in Canada and it was such a great experience to witness them so close to the boat! I am sure this was such a fun thing for you to see so up close!

  20. Amazing photos! So glad your husband had a good zoom lense. Trips like this are always the highlight of my traveling. I LOVE seeing and interacting with wildlife. And while I have been on whale watching tours in San Diego, the whales don’t come to the boat. Plus you got to see puffins — oh my gosh, they are so cute!!

  21. You are so fortunate to see puffins and whales that closed in their habitat. I wonder if the air around the Gull Island is a bit smell because of the puffins. I will do this tour when we visit Newfoundland.

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