There are high tides and then there are really high tides. In the everyday experience of most people, the average difference between high and low tide hovers around three feet. But, there’s a tide that’s so big it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records. Measuring in at an astounding 55 feet, it is the natural phenomenon known as Canada’s Bay of Fundy.
Located between the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the Bay of Fundy is a large, u-shaped bay on the Atlantic Coast of North America. Measuring 170 miles (270 km) long, it was formed millions of years ago when the continental plates shifted, causing a large rift to develop. Each day, more than 160 billion tons of seawater flows in and out of the bay during just one tide cycle, which is roughly equal to the flow of all of the world’s freshwater rivers combined.
The native Mi’kmaq people, who were the first to settle along the shores of the Bay of Fundy, have a legend as to how this all came about.
And it’s true that the large size and unusual funnel shape of the bay, which splits in two at its northeastern end, make the extreme tidal range possible. As the water surges back into the bay from the Atlantic, it rears up in response to this nozzle-like constriction. This, combined with the tidal sway of the Atlantic (which is nearly identical to that of the bay), sets up the powerful push and pull of Fundy’s tides.
Do you see the resemblance to the legend? I do.
It’s not everyday you see boats beached on the sand; their moorings still attached to the wharf, but that’s the case twice a day in the Bay of Fundy. With two high and low tides every 24 hours, the boats bob back to the surface two times daily, in an up-and-down motion that defies credulity. To be exact, two completely different landscapes are revealed every six hours and 13 minutes.
At the time of our visit, the tide was only a frothy white disturbance at the edge of the horizon, leaving exposed in its wake the vast expanse of the ocean floor. Miles of mudflats, coated with a greenish sheen, extended as far as the eye could see, fringed by craggy sandstone cliffs, their faces deeply etched by the powerful salt waters. A walk down onto the ocean floor brought the dramatic coastline into closer perspective. Huge gray boulders, a sea of gray-brown tumbled stones and fallen trees made for an otherworldly setting, an effect which was only magnified by the far-off roar of the approaching tide.
The park is filled with beautiful hiking trails that weave through the forest and spill out onto the flats via elevated boardwalks, smelling faintly of cedar in the tangy salty air. At low tide, enormous rock formations are revealed, only to be swallowed up by the sea hours later. Hopewell Rocks, also known as the Flowerpot Rocks, are massive rock formations located on the New Brunswick shore. Carved by the powerful tides, they stand 40 to 70 feet tall. Although partially covered in water twice a day, you can view them at ground level at low tide.
At low tide, the exposed mud flats and expansive salt marshes play host to thousands of creatures. Each year, up to two million sandpipers and other shorebirds come to Fundy to refuel during their annual summer migration to the Arctic. The strength of the tide provides a constant supply of nutrients from the Atlantic for these populations while acting as a flushing mechanism, removing their waste from the bay.
Fundy is also home to many different species of whales including the humpback, minkes, eias and rare North Atlantic right whales. Additionally there are bald eagles, dolphins, ospreys and falcons. Canada’s ubiquitous lighthouses also provide a picturesque backdrop, located every 2 to 3 miles along the shores of the bay.
As if all this wasn’t enough, there are also are tidal rapids (some measuring as high as 12 feet) and the largest whirlpool in the hemisphere, known as Old Sow. Old Sow forms a large funnel of water near the western passage of the bay from which it roils and spurts, occasionally forming large standing walls of water.
For more information on the Bay of Fundy, where to stay and what to do, click here for the official Bay of Fundy tourism site.
All images by Here By Design