The Magic of Witless Bay Ecological Reserve

One of my hearts desires while on the island of Newfoundland was to see puffins and whales, as I have never witness one in the wild before. Our first stop for this bucket list item was Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, it lies just a few kilometres off the east coast of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula, an easy thirty minute drive south of St. John’s.

Within this magical location, one of nature’s greatest wonders occur. In the summer months, millions of seabirds make these four small islands their home. These migratory seabirds generally spend most of their year at sea, only returning to shore from May to August, to nest and raise their young. Witless Bay Ecological Reserve contains North America's largest Atlantic puffin colony. More than 260,000 pairs of Newfoundland and Labrador official bird nest here during the late spring and summer. In addition, black-legged kittiwakes and common murres appear in the thousands. During these peak summer months the capelin draw in millions of these seabirds, as well thousands of whales migrate to these lush summer feeding grounds. Especially humpback and minkes can be viewed joining in on the feeding frenzy of these delicious little fish.

All public viewings of Witless Bay Ecological Reserve islands and their inhabitants must be done from a boat. Landing on the islands requires a scientific research or special access permit. The Canadian Wildlife Service and Memorial University of Newfoundland carry out extensive research programs in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. Their studies of the birds' behaviour and population trends, as well as the area's ecology, help guide the management of all the province's seabird reserves.

Many licenced tour-boat companies operate out of nearby bays, which is the best way to view this mass of migrating aquatic species. Running spring through fall, these boat tours also provide opportunities to spot icebergs, whales, and other wildlife.

Quick Information About Witless Bay Ecological Preserve:

  • The Witless Bay Ecological Reserve consists of four islands: Gull Island, Green Island, Great Island, and Pee Pee Island.

  • The islands lie just a few kilometres off the east coast of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula, between the communities of Bay Bulls and Bauline East, half an hour south of St. John's. The reserve area takes in 31 km2 - 29 km2 of this is a marine area around the islands.

  • For the most part, public observation of their activities must be done from boats-landing on the islands themselves requires a scientific research or special access permit.

  • Regulations govern the operation of boats inside the reserve during the sensitive nesting season (April 1-September 1).