Sunday, August 8, 2010

Holy Crap!!! - A Cautionary Tale of Whales

With such a short, yet powerful title, I am sure that you wondering what the heck this entry must be about!!

In a nutshell, it involves three whales and three kayaks. But there is much more to be said . . .

On Aug 8, 2010 five paddlers left Torbay with the plan to paddle to Flatrock (return) with the hopes of seeing some whales. Just as we left Torbay we saw the distinctive sprays. We managed to catch some good views of humpbacks but nothing truly spectacular. We then proceeded onto Flatrock for lunch. Upon returning back to Torbay we saw that the whales were still in the bay. Like the hunters of olde, we quickened the pace and headed towards them.

Clyde went further out into the bay. Tony stayed behind a little while Dean, Gary and myself headed towards this one whale who appeared to be stationary in the water. It was blowing pretty regularly but was not moving from the spot.

The three of us approached but not with the intent of getting too close. I'd guess we were within 50 feet when things took a strange and startling turn.

As if out of nowhere two massive humpbacks appeared. They came up behind us. In this image there are actually two whales coming up right behind Gary. Gary is obviously surprised as they basically came out of nowhere. The image is deceiving as the whales came much closer to Gary and they were BIG - both these points are missed in this image.

For the most part they swam very close to one another - often side by side. They appeared to be circling us. I had my camera out but will have to admit it's very hard to take pictures while trying to paddle!!!

The image below was taken as the whale came right for me. It dove under my boat while no more than 30 feet away. Now that was scary!! My first reaction was to try back paddling to get away but not that this would help as these creatures move a lot faster than I can paddle!! I watched the distinctive white of the whale in water under my boat!!

After the whale went under me, I managed to get my camera out again and swivel around in my cockpit to catch the image below. Here we see the two whales close together. You can tell by the reaction of Dean and Gary that they are surprised to see these two massive beasts come up behind them!!

Once we moved further away from the motionless whale, the other two, for some reason moved out of the area as well. It was a general consensus among the three of us that, indeed, these two whales were circling us. It appears to connected to our proximity to the third whale. Not being marine biologists, we guessed that the third was injured or incapacitated and that the other two were protecting it! It was not a small whale so I don't thing it was the case of parents protecting their young.

All in all it was a exciting, yet very intimidating experience. I sometimes think that we may be lulled into a false sense of security when paddling near these massive WILD creatures yet they are not tame and must be treated accordingly. While it will not stop me from paddling near whales, I now have a greater respect of them, of their size and their apparent disposition to protect themselves and others.


  1. It is cool! I'm glad you guys figured out to get farther away from that whale that was remaining still.
    I've been volunteering with the biologists at Straitwatch, a group that gets a little funding from the Canadian government to gather statistics on whale watching.
    The law in Canada and the USA waters is to avoid approaching whales any closer than 100 metres. If the whales are going in a certain direction, we're supposed to get out of their way at least 200 metres ahead of them. And we're not supposed to float boats between the whales and the shore. Your story makes it clear why they want us to stay so far away -- it's not really all that far away from such a big and fast-moving animal!

  2. Paula: Thanks for the posting. I'll have to admit that I did not know the specific Regs regarding whales and boats. I'll also admit that once those whales started moving around us in that fashion, we got out there pretty quick. We weren't sticking around to see what was going to happen next!!!

  3. That's very cool! We are hoping to get up to Orcas Island and the surrounding areas in Washington next year. I really hope we get to see some whales!