Day 1: Quebec City, Quebec
Our harp seal tour begins upon 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 &
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 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
Our harp seal tour comes to a close after breakfast, when we'll transfer to the airport for your return flight home.
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.