Close encounter with humpback whale terrifies — and delights — B.C. family
A BC family had a thrilling experience off Vancouver Island when a humpback whale spent nearly an hour rubbing against their boat, spinning around and flapping its fins.
Aleks Mount was whale watching with his family on Tuesday, northeast of the Campbell River, when the whale became friendly.
When they first spotted the humpback about 100 meters away, Mount said he immediately shut down his engine, intending to keep his distance.
But the whale dived underwater only to surface less than a minute later beneath their boat.
Mount said he and his family were initially terrified of the creature, which he describes as being the size of a school bus.
“All it has to do is flip the tail and the boat will be in the air.”
Mount’s video shows the whale spinning and somersaulting just inches from the boat, occasionally spraying them from its blowhole.
“I could just touch it. It just rubbed gently against the boat, got in, got out,” said Mount, who has been enthusiastically tracking the whale for about four years.
Mount realized he couldn’t escape because he didn’t know how the whale would react to the sudden sound of engines and was worried the boat’s propeller might cut off the whale.
So they watched and waited.
Fortunately, Mr Mount said, the whale hit the boat only once with its fins, causing a slight bend in the railing and a few minor scratches.
A marine expert later identified the Mount humpback as a young male named Neowise.
Mount said they were lucky the whale was aware of its body and did not cause further damage.
“I’m going to forget my name and who I am before I forget this… it feels really special to share that moment,” Mount said.
Andrew Trites, director of the marine mammal research unit at the University of British Columbia, said that although he had heard a few recent reports of humpbacks mingling with boats, this was the closest one had ever come. he had seen.
“There’s nothing more special than this one,” says Trites.
Trites believes the whale may have been attracted to the boat’s depth gauge – a device that measures the depth of water beneath the boat by emitting sound.
According to Trites, this high-frequency noise is similar to the sound whales use to communicate.
“For the humpback whale, this appears to be another living organism about its own size, which is something it can interact with,” says Trites.
Mount confirmed his depth gauge was turned on before he built the boat when he spotted the whale.
Trites said the whales may not have full control over where their tails and fins fly out, creating a potentially dangerous situation.
“These are gentle giants, but they can do a lot of unintended damage… it has the potential to be deadly,” says Trites.
Trites said humpback whales were hunted to near extinction about a century ago, and have only begun to reappear off the coast of BC in the past 20 years.
As people encounter more whales, Trites says education is important to developing a respectful relationship with the creatures.
He recommends that boats keep their distance – turning off the boat’s depth gauge could be one way to do so, he said – and go at a slow pace when whales are spotted.
Whale you are mine?
According to Trites, it is common for young men to hunch their backs to engage in playful behaviors, according to Trites.
He said that while these humpback whales mate in the winter when they travel south, young males often spend time rehearsing their love songs before mating season.
“It’s possible that this young man was actually singing for the boat,” said Trites.
“They have to practice with someone, why not a boat?”