A rare small-group adventure to see white-furred baby harp seals up close – truly a remarkable wildlife encounter.
Walk with expert guides on ice floes among herds of seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Discover the serene winter beauty of the Magdalen Islands, flung far off Quebec’s coast.
THE HARP SEAL WATCH
Day 1:Quebec City, Quebec
Arrive in Quebec City on the St. Lawrence River, the second-oldest European settlement in Canada, established by Samuel de Champlain in the 17th century. A distinctly French atmosphere still permeates the city today, especially within the historic quarter, with its narrow lanes and stone walls. Meet for a welcome dinner this evening.
Day 2: Quebec City / Magdalen Islands
Fly this morning to the Magdalen Islands. As we leave the mainland, we gaze down on a subarctic landscape that resembles a frozen jigsaw puzzle, as ice chokes the open water of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, forming jagged floes that float atop the sea. Amidst the ice we can make out the fishhook-shaped archipelago, “Les Îles de la Madeleine,” or the “Maggies,” in less-French colloquial use.
Pushed up from the ocean floor and sculpted by waves, winds and currents in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the islands are in a constant state of change. Salt marshes, sand dunes and sandstone cliffs are among their main habitats. The gulf waters sustain a vital fishing culture, and we may see lobster pots and fishing nets awaiting the spring thaw. Though often hidden from view, the islands are home to many wintering birds that find the landscape reminiscent of their summer homes farther north. In a presentation this evening, we learn about the remarkable life cycle of the harp seal.
Days 3 - 6: Magdalen Islands, Seal Excursions & Northern Adventure
While in the islands, you can fly out to visit the seal herds every day that the weather allows. After a brief safety presentation, our guides issue expedition suits and prepare us for one of the world’s most unique wildlife encounters. The journey to the seals can take between five minutes and one hour, depending on their location. After our helicopter pilot chooses a suitable ice pan, we set down for our up-close experience with the herd. On the ice pans there may be hundreds of lolling, lumbering, barking harp seals, with fluffy white-coated babies by their sides.
We spread out among the seals, giving each traveler ample opportunity for personal time with these captivating animals. When we approach the seals, they have different reactions: some bark at us like puppy dogs, others scurry away, and still others roll on their backs, almost encouraging us to scratch their bellies.
Our Expedition Leaders and ice guides are highly knowledgeable in seal biology and behavior, which enhances our experience significantly. When we are not visiting the seals, travelers can participate in outdoor activities (weather permitting) such as snowshoeing and hiking, and we may even have the opportunity to dogsled or ice fish with the locals.
There are indoor pursuits available as well, such as slide shows and lectures on wildlife and photography. In addition, we will have the opportunity to tour the islands and visit the many traditional crafts shops featuring the distinctive work of local Acadian artisans. (All of these activities are optional but are included in your fee.)
Day 7: Magdalen Islands / Quebec City
After a final opportunity for activities today, we fly back to Quebec City. Depending on schedules, enjoy either a farewell lunch on the Maggies or a farewell dinner in Quebec City with your Expedition Leader(s) this evening, with a last chance to share stories of a most amazing week.
Day 8: Quebec City / Home
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your return flight home.
Please note: On our seven-day expedition we travel back to Quebec City on Day 6.
Note on ice conditions: Our encounters with the seals are largely dependent on ice conditions and weather. When the ice is thick we can often walk among hundreds of seals. When the ice is sparse and free floating we may only find individual animals. Poor weather may also limit the number of flights, or cancel them altogether.
We ask that our guests recognize that this is a true nature expedition where we cannot predict the exact conditions.
Dates and Cost
Trip Duration :
7 or 8 Day Tour
2012 Dates :
Feb 28 - Mar 6 (8 days)
Mar 4 - 10 (7 days)
Mar 8 - 15 (8 Days)
2012 Fees :
7-day trip: $4,995
8-day trip: $5,395
Single Supp.: 7-day trip: $495
8-day trip: $595
Deposit: $500 (nonrefundable)
Please note: Fees include one flight to the seal herds. Additional flights to the seals may be booked on site, on a space available basis, for approximately $550 CAD per flight.
All flights are dependent on weather.
Each March, 250,000 harp seals migrate from Greenland to the Gulf of St. Lawrence to bear their young on the vast ice floes surrounding the Magdalen Islands. For centuries the pups have been hunted for their immaculate white pelts. Now, baby harp seals are protected, and small groups of visitors can spend time in their presence. Someday, we hope the same will be true for all harp seals. Natural Habitat Adventures is the innovator of these adventures that not only allow wildlife lovers an incredibly moving experience, but also help to protect these magical mammals through ecotourism.
Location of Adventure
Magdalen Islands, Quebec, Canada
Group Size Limit
Approximately 15 Travellers
A very important feature of our guided adventure to see harp seal herds in their natural habitat is the limited group size as nature expeditions are best experienced with smaller sized groups of travellers.
Return flights between Quebec City and the Magdalen Islands, accommodations, meals from dinner on Day 1 to breakfast on final day, bottled water, services of Expedition Leaders, local guides and lodge staff, some gratuities, airport transfers on Day 1 and final day, one helicopter trip to the seals, slide shows, lectures and presentations by authorities on seals and wildlife, guided outdoor activities (snowshoeing, nature hikes), dogsledding excursion (if available), trips to local artisans’ shops and studios in the Magdalen Islands, use of expedition suits and warm boots for ice trips and all equipment for outdoor activities, permits and entrance fees, all taxes.
Travel to and from start and end point of trip (Quebec City), alcoholic beverages, some gratuities, passport and visa fees, items of a personal nature (phone calls, souvenirs, etc.), airline baggage fees, airport and departure taxes, optional travel insurance.
Easy / Flexible
Trips to the ice require very little physical exertion although the weather can be cold and the ice can be slippery, rough and uneven. Other activities such as hiking and snowshoeing are optional but included for those who desire.
Each season - indeed, every day - the visits to the ice are different. The journey to the seal herds may take anywhere from five minutes to one hour, providing wonderful views of the frozen Gulf of St. Lawrence from the air. We normally land amongst hundreds of seals, or, if ice conditions are poor, there may just be several individuals. When we approach the seals some may scurry away and others may bark at us like little puppy dogs. But others, still, may allow us to approach them carefully and actually rub their bellies and softly pat their heads. Research has shown that this does not harm the animals and it is surely one of life’s greatest thrills!
One helicopter flight is included in this program. Additional flights may be purchased directly on site.
From the hotel, there are three scheduled flights to the ice per day; each is given a three-hour window. On inclement days, or if ice conditions require, groups may stay out on the ice for less time. Of course, all schedules depend on weather and equipment conditions as well as our (and other) travellers’ abilities and desires; if it is too cold, we may return early. Any additional flights booked on site will be scheduled in the order they were booked.
Any time our helicopters depart from the landing pad en route to the seal herds, it may be counted as a “flight” whether we are able to locate the seals or not (in 25 years, we have a 96% success rate, so this is rarely a factor). Should poor weather or ice conditions preclude our travelers from taking their scheduled helicopter flights, refunds will be made for the cost of any additional helicopter trips that have been purchased on site (this applies to all flights AFTER the first one).
Safety for our travelers, and for the seals, is our main concern. To this end, we provide an extensive safety presentation and our pilots, guides and helicopters will remain with you during your entire stay on the ice. In the unlikely event that ice conditions change rapidly we can lift every traveler off the ice within just minutes. While this scenario is rare, our many years of running seal-watching trips and flying helicopters in the northern environs (we’ve been working on Seal Watch since the 80’s) has shown us that it does happen. We simply will not compromise safety!
Please note: Due to unpredictable weather conditions, the remote location of this adventure, and the limited services available during this time of year, additional activities such as snowshoeing cannot be guaranteed.
Please arrive in time for a 7pm welcome dinner on Day 1. You are free to depart Quebec City any time on the final day.
The Independent Traveller can book all flights for you
Proof of Citizenship
All U.S. citizens must carry a valid passport or passport card to enter Canada. Birth certificates and other government-issued photo IDs are no longer accepted for entry.