Surprise show: Humpback whales breach extremely close to kayakers
As humpback whales continue their resurgence, more incredible encounters with humans have been filmed in B.C.’s coastal waters.
But this one might take the cake.
A group of kayakers on a guided tour in the Discovery Islands were treated to a spectacular show when an excited humpback and her calf breached multiple times at close range.
Damon Stapinsky, owner of Wildcoast Adventures, said his group was elated when they came across the pair on Monday, just south of Penn Islands.
“I was sitting right behind the group. I was just letting all my guests enjoy what we were watching, the mother feeding her young,” he said. “We saw the tail fluke go down and we assumed that was the end of the show.”
He was wrong.
After about 30 minutes of calm behaviour, the calf and mother started jumping for joy right in front of the group.
“It was incredible but unexpected. There’s no way we could’ve foreseen that. All I could think of was the safety of the guests,” he said.
In the video, Stapinsky can be heard yelling at his group to “get back” at least 100 metres as per federal guidelines.
“In a kayak, you can’t back off that fast. They can swim way faster than we can paddle,” he said. “When mama came up, shortly after, it was apparent that we needed to get back and get back fast.”
That’s when the mother whale, mimicking her much smaller calf, jumped out of the water – appearing to land extremely close to a group member.
“John doesn’t need a bathroom break anymore, he’s good,” the kayaker is heard saying after the too-close-for-comfort experience.
Stapinsky then spoke with other whale-watchers after the unbelievable show, collecting footage from other boats showing the encounter from three angles.
After posting the video to YouTube, Stapinsky said he has had a mostly positive response, with various media outlets contacting him about the experience.
“Of course with everything, you’re going to get the bad as well,” he said, saying some have criticized him for his group’s proximity to the whales. “We’re very confident we followed the guidelines and it was just unexpected and exciting.”
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says all vessels including kayaks must reduce their speed and keep clear of the whales’ path when encountering the marine mammals.
It also says that if vessels are not in compliance with the distance rule, they must cautiously move away from the whales.
Scientists say the species has been making a remarkable comeback since it was nearly hunted to extinction in the 20th century.
There are now estimated to be up to 21,000 in the northeast Pacific Ocean alone, and research is underway to determine whether changes in the food chain are spurring their numbers.