Newfoundland tour operators optimistic despite bleak start to iceberg season

An iceberg is visible from the shore in Ferryland, an hour south of St. John's, Newfoundland on Monday, April 10, 2017. The Canadian Press/Paul Daly

Newfoundland and Labrador – a province lauded for its shimmering coastlines, plentiful wildlife and rugged scenery – is falling short so far this year on one of its most prized tourist attractions: icebergs.

Robert Bartlett, owner and operator of whale watching and iceberg tour company Trinity Eco-Tours, said he’s seen fewer than 10 icebergs since the province’s prime iceberg season kicked off at the start of May. In previous years, he’d have seen 40 to 50 by now.

“It’s not that the icebergs aren’t there,” Bartlett explained in a phone interview from Trinity, N.L. “They’re just way offshore.”

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According to Newfoundland and Labrador’s tourism website, roughly 90 per cent of icebergs that end up off the coast of the province come from western Greenland, after breaking off of glaciers and slipping into the sea.

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A stretch of water from the coast of Labrador to the southeast coast of Newfoundland known as Iceberg Alley provides passage for the glacial giants, but how close they get to land depends on the currents.

“If the current changes by 10, 20 miles, it takes the icebergs a lot further offshore,” said Bartlett.

An iceberg is shown near Ferryland, N.L., on Monday, April 24, 2017. It was the year of the celebrity iceberg, the phallic iceberg and the lying-dog iceberg. The Canadian Press/Paul Daly

Last year, Newfoundland and Labrador enjoyed a phenomenal iceberg season, with more than a thousand counted off the coast of the province, attracting people from all corners of the world.

In April of 2017, an iceberg squatted off tiny Ferryland, N.L., where its size, beauty and proximity drew crowds and put the town of about 500 on the world’s radar.

Then in late July, a phallic-shaped iceberg was photographed off Griquet, N.L., garnering a flood of attention on social media.

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So far this year, Bartlett hasn’t seen any icebergs of note.

Further south, Iceberg Quest Ocean Tours owner Barry Rogers said he also noticed a downtick in sightings, but said he’s optimistic more will show up as the season progresses.

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In a phone interview from St. John’s, he said many factors affect iceberg sightings, including tides, sea conditions, and where they break off in Greenland.

“The world is intrigued by icebergs,” he said. “We have people come from all over the globe. They come here specifically to reach this bucket list destination.”

He added that interest in icebergs was in part propelled by the 1997 film Titanic, which highlighted the size and power of the natural phenomena.

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But despite their beauty, Rogers said Newfoundland and Labrador has plenty of other things to offer tourists besides icebergs.

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Cliffs, plants, birds, marine life, food, locals – all come together to create a spectacular visit for everyone, said Rogers.

“People come to Newfoundland and Labrador, not just for the ice. There’s so many other things to see here,” he said. “The biggest asset that we have here in the province is our people.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Bartlett, who said a lack of icebergs shouldn’t deter people from visiting Newfoundland and Labrador this summer.

“The coastline, and the wildlife and scenery is beautiful … it’s just a pretty fantastic place,” he said, adding that more icebergs could be on the way.

“Things are dynamic and things change quickly. Although there’s not that many today, there could be lots tomorrow. And certainly lots in the years to come.”

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