''CANADA’S MAGNIFICENT ATLANTIC COAST'' Voyage 7121 Day 6

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Day 6 - September 25, 2011 - Bonaventure Island, Canada

By Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist

Co-ordinates: N 48º30’09”, W 064º10’31”
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: 15ºC
Pressure: 1004 hPa
Wind: 15 knots


This morning I woke up to a wonderful sight, Percé Rock, one of the world’s largest and most spectacular natural arches. This impressive monolith stands only a few hundred metres off the town of Percé, in the Gaspesie peninsula, province of Quebec.

Percé Rock is a proud testament to Gaspésie’s geological heritage. An unshakeable mass of rock and limestone 375 million years old, it measures 433 metres in length, 90 metres wide, and 88 metres at its highest point. Its weight is estimated at 5 million tonnes. The arch itself is 15 metres high. The rock is a nesting place for cormorants, kittiwakes and seagulls. Percé Rock is situated very close to Bonaventure Island, our destination for today.

After breakfast we started bringing our guests ashore at Bonaventure Island to have a look at the world’s largest gannetry. This breeding site holds the largest number of Northern Gannets in the world – 60,000 breeding pairs at the peak of the breeding season.

Once ashore our guests set off on a 5.6 km return hike through some beautiful forest, gaining a total elevation of 135 metres. After about an hour of walking they got to the site and a guide from Parks Canada gave an interpretative talk on the biology of gannets. At the site there were several viewing platforms. From there, everybody had a chance to have a very close look at the gannets in their nests, performing their pair bonding rituals and getting ready for migration. There were lots of chicks at different stages of development, some already fledged, some still wearing their baby down.

There were gannets in the air all around; many of them were doing those phenomenal dives that gannets are famous for. They drop vertically at full speed, like a spear into the water, from a height of 40 metres. Just before they hit the water at great speed they fold their wings backwards and spin, which allows them to more efficiently pierce the surface of the water and absorb the impact, because at that point they are going at an astonishing 100 km/hr.

Fascinating birds indeed, and you cannot get any closer to them anywhere else in the world. This is not only the most numerous but also the most accessible colony in the world. A sight to behold.

Once back at the landing site our guests went to a small restaurant built inside a house that dates from 1845, to have tea, coffee and cakes. The weather was truly spectacular, not a single cloud in the blue sky and a fresh breeze was blowing. The place is very colourful and it was a true delight to just chill out in the sun after the hike, enjoying the day and the scenery.

We then brought our guests back on board and the Silver Explorer heaved anchor and relocated closer to the gannetry. We drove the Zodiacs along the shore and once the ship got there we offered a Zodiac cruise. By doing so, the guests were able to see the colony from a completely different angle. They were able to see what they couldn’t see from the top. They enjoyed the views of the birds nesting on the cliff ledges and the hundreds that were flying all around and also diving for fish. In the same area there were dozens of grey seals gracefully popping their heads out of the water to have a curious look at us.

Just before 1pm we had everybody on board and we set sail for Charlottetown, the capital of the Prince Edward Island province.

After a hearty Mexican-themed lunch, we got together in the Theatre to listen to Robin Aiello talk about seabirds. In her “Survival at Sea - Life as a Seabird” presentation, Robin explained how seabirds fly for months without landing, and feed exclusively from animals that live underwater. She delved into the amazing adaptations that allow them to survive in harsh oceanic conditions.

At 5:30 the Expedition Team hosted a briefing, which was followed by a delicious dinner. It was a magnificent day and I could sense from the smiles I saw on our guests’ faces and the animated conversations that were talking place in The Restaurant, that everyone felt the same.

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