Sable Island: a photographer’s dream come true

View from remote, beautiful Sable Island

Sable Island: where every view is an ocean view


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As a guide, resource person and photographer for Adventure Canada I have had the joy of exploring many stunning parts of the world with participants who yearn for what I call “deep travel experiences”.

Sable Island has been beckoning to me for decades and it is a thrill to have Sable as our newest National Park to be protected for perpetuity – not only for Canadians but all humankind. For many months I have been in a standby mode with Parks Canada ready to jump when there was a window of possibility to reach the island.
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Finally, on April 30th, we took off from Halifax in our 1973 Islander STOL aircraft for the flight to Sable. I was in the co-pilot seat with Ted, our veteran pilot, who does a lot of over-ocean flying.
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Selfie: Sable Island bound

Selfie: Sable Island bound

I was wearing my life jacket but Ted was not wearing his. I love a confident pilot. Three other passengers were headed to the island to do technical work for Parks Canada on infrastructure projects. After an hour and a half we dove through the clouds, and Sable came into view.
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A colony of seals appears as tiny dots on West Spit

A colony of seals appears as tiny dots on West Spit

Before we landed Ted flew us over West Spit and I could not believe my eyes. As I looked at the coamers roaring into the beach, Ted said “Here come the seals!” There were tens of thousands of seals basking on the beach. The biggest colony of Grey Seals in the world (estimated at 50,000 pinnipeds) make Sable their home. We flew up the length of Sable, then banked sharply near Lake Wallace, and I could see the Parks buildings below me. As we prepared to land, I could see a vehicle with a wind-sock attached to its bumper on a massive expanse of wet sand. We dropped out of the sky and Ted laid us down gently, using about 600 feet of runway.
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As we stepped out of the aircraft the cold wind bit into us but we were warmly greeted by Aaron and Brent, Parks officials on the island. We jumped in a jeep annd were whisked off to our abode where we would stay for the next week.
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Members of the world's largest colony of Grey seals

Members of the world’s largest colony of Gray seals

I grabbed my camera gear and headed for the beach on a quest to see the multitude of seals. As I crested cautiously over a dune a potent smell assailed my nostrils. There in front of me, about 200 feet away was the largest group I had ever seen in my life at close range! Hundreds and hundreds all snuggled in together enjoying a very flatulent day at the beach. There were black ones, brown ones, fat ones and little ones all enjoying each other’s company. There were more coming out of the water to join the Grey seal throngs.

Greetings from a baby seal

Greetings from a baby seal

Suddenly I heard a snort near me, and I looked over to see a sand covered baby Grey seal just 20 feet away! He had been sleeping, and was camouflaged by the sand that had blown over him. I quickly made some portraits of him and then moved away to give him a bit of space.

Wild horses speckled the dunescapes too, so I pointed my Nikons in their direction next. A young colt lay nearby. He reminded me of some ancient horse drawings I had seen of pre-ice age creatures. He was wearing his thick winter coat which was more like fur than hair.
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Sable Island horse looking well despite a long winter

Sable Island horse looking well despite a long winter

Chunks of his winter coat were falling off, and he looked very healthy but others I saw were in rough shape —their ribs sticking through from a rugged existence and very cold winter. One fellow with a dreadlock mane nibbled away at the first shoots of the year. It will still be a month until the really nutritious grasses and sedges provide good volumes of food for these hardy equines.
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Seals are unconcerned by respectful human visitors

Seals are unconcerned by respectful human visitors

I scurried about with a sense of urgency to capture the essence of this place on this glorious sunny, windy day because I know weather here changes in an instant. Before I knew it the sun was going down. I had only been on the island for 8 hours but I was exhausted, sated and elated at absorbing and documenting this magical place.
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As I drifted off to sleep with my plans for tomorrow I thought of the island as a sentinel of sand dunes, guarding the coast of Nova Scotia.

Sable Island offers magnificent sunsets

Sable Island offers magnificent sunsets- fodder for a photographer’s dreams

Sable Island, Canada’s 43rd national park

It’s official: Sable Island, Nova Scotia, is Canada’s 43rd national park. We’ve been anticipating this moment of course; our two trips to Sable Island this coming spring have been filling up for months.

Still, it’s nice to see the legendary island with its beloved wild horses, seals, rare birds and plants make The National, CBC TV’s nightly news program. Sable Island is truly a place worth protecting, and we hope people across Canada are celebrating its new status with us.

As the above video report by Tom Murphy notes, Parks Canada and research scientist Zoe Lucas—who has worked on the island for years—are optimistic about the prospect of curious travellers visiting Sable Island under Parks Canada’s strict regulations.

While we didn’t get a personal mention from Peter Mansbridge, we’re delighted that Adventure Canada’s staff, Zodiacs and ship (the Sea Adventurer) appear briefly in this clip from The National on CBC TV. And we look forward to our inaugural voyages to Sable Island next spring!

Click the links for more information or to book your trip.

Sable Island, June 12-20
Sable Island, June 20-28