By Corey Sandler
The small village of Tadoussac, Quebec is passed by thousands of times each year by freighters and cruise ships heading to or from Quebec City and Montreal, and also by cruise ships that leave the Saint Lawrence for a sidetrip up the Saguenay River.
Not all that many ships actually pull over to visit; the locals are happy to see us.
Tadoussac was first visited by Europeans in 1535 when Jacques Cartier stopped here on his second voyage. He reported that the Innu people were using the place as a base for seal hunting.
Later that same century, Basques conducted whaling expeditions from here, with the French taking over as the colony grew.
Sitting on the east side of the Saguenay River meant that there was no road or rail crossing to connect Tadoussac to Quebec City and Montreal; the only bridges were hours further up the river to the north. Today a ferry shuttles back and forth across the mouth of the river.
Tadoussac became a tourist destination more 150 years ago, and that continues to this day. The first version of the grand Hotel Tadoussac was built in the mid-19th century, and the slightly younger replacement remains popular.
There are several federal and provincial natural parks and preserves in the mostly untouched wilderness to the north.
When the cold, fresh water of the Saguenay meets the relatively warm, salty water of the Saint Lawrence the result is a rich marine environment, including an abundance of krill, tiny crustaceans near the very bottom of the aquatic food chain, among the species with the largest total biomass on the planet.
That makes the area very attractive as a breeding ground for Beluga whales, and we usually see some near the mouth of the Saguenay at the Saint Lawrence. Belugas give off high-pitched whistles or chirps. Early sailors and hunters gave them the nickname sea canaries.
Mature beluga whales are near-white, which helps them blend in with what is left of the pack ice in the Arctic where they spend much of their time.
Other whales attracted to the region include larger humpbacks, finbacks, minke, and even the occasional giant blue which can reach 30 meters or 99 feet in length. That’s enough to stop traffic; we can hope.
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