A Cumberland family on their boat hoping to spot a whale off Vancouver Island this week got much more than they bargained for.
A humpback whale gave the boat a shine and remained within a few feet of the family boat for over an hour.
About “the size of a school bus,” the humpback swam under and to either side of the family’s 19-foot boat, spinning and slapping its massive tail and front flippers, often appearing “to wave at us,” Aleks Mounts said. , who filmed the encounter and posted it on his YouTube channel.
“He just didn’t want to leave,” said Alex Bowman, Mounts’ ex-wife and mother of their two sons, ages 9 and 13. “It seemed like she was giving us a high five.”
Mounts said it was a warm, calm day on the water Tuesday northeast of the Campbell River when he spotted the whale about 100 meters away.
“I immediately turned off the engine because I wanted to respect the rules about the whales,” he said.
But the humpback whale dove and surfaced about a minute later just below their boat. She assumed that the whale would move on, but it stayed. Initially, the family was “terrified” of the giant creature, which could have capsized the boat out of the water, Mounts said.
He was reluctant to restart the engine for fear that the propeller would injure the hunchback.
But the encounter seemed to turn friendly, rather quickly.
The whale swam under the boat and along both sides, then turned and struck its tail and fins inches from the boat. It often came to the surface and sprayed the family from its blowhole. “I can taste it… his breath is not bad,” Mounts said while filming.
He said the whale only made contact with the boat at one point with its barnacle-encrusted fin, leaving a few scratches and a slightly bent railing.
“He would wave to us and then forcefully throw him into the water. She was doing these yoga moves. It was crazy, something none of us had ever seen,” Mounts said.
“I can’t believe how gentle he is and how conscientious he is.”
Bowman said: “We felt vulnerable on the boat, but he was a gentle giant who wanted to hang out with us. It seemed like he was more curious about us than we were about him.”
The whale was later confirmed to be a young male named Neowise. Humpback whales are identified by the patterns on the underside of their fins, which are as unique as human fingerprints.
Andrew Trites, director of marine mammal research at the University of British Columbia, said boating encounters with humpback whales are not common. But as the species continues a grand comeback from the early 20th-century slaughter of whales, and extinction in the Salish Sea, he expects more close encounters to occur.
The whale could have been lured by ships’ depth finder or fish finder, which uses sound waves to determine water depth, Trites said.
The sound waves are similar to the vocalizations that whales use to communicate with each other, he said, and scientists are studying a possible connection between depth seekers and whales.
“It’s a high-frequency sound, a narrow beam that doesn’t hurt the whales, but they are very vocal and like to communicate,” Trites said.
Although humpback whales in BC waters are here to feed, the young whale may have understood the depth seeker as “a love song” and may have been “deriving pleasure as part of a social interaction” from listening to the waves of sound, said Trites.
“Otherwise a boat is an inanimate object,” he said.
Mounts said the depth finder was on when he saw the whale and turned off when he turned off the boat’s engine.
Trites fears the increase in encounters could pose “huge risks” for boaters. Male humpbacks typically weigh more than 10,000 kilograms and are often not in control of their massive bodies and “gawky” fins.
“They are giants, but they are quite clumsy,” Trites said, adding that the ships could be destroyed and the occupants could be at great risk if a fin or fin falls off.
He advises boaters to turn off depth sounders when they see whales, and if they are too close, try to move away to maintain a safe distance.
Humpback populations in the North Pacific are increasing at a remarkable rate.
Naturalists aboard whale-watching vessels reported 21 new calves last summer and fall, the largest calving batch on record and nearly double the previous maximum of 11 identified the previous year, according to the Whale Research Center. Whales in Washington.
Populations were reduced worldwide by as much as 95% until the International Whaling Commission introduced a final moratorium on harvesting the species for meat and oil in 1985.
Humpback whales have been protected in Canada since 1966. Prior to that, according to a recent Ocean Watch report, at least 5,600 humpback whales were taken at whaling stations along the BC coast beginning in 1908, decimating the population.
The Salish Sea is one of the last historical areas that humpback whales have “reoccupied” since the days of whaling, which began about 20 years ago with a single whale. Others, and their calves, have followed.
Ocean Watch said the inland waters of the Strait of Georgia extending south to Puget Sound are likely where “a small and possibly resident population of humpback whales was extirpated in 1909.”
As humpback whales begin to repopulate a historic summer feeding area in the Salish Sea, Trites said, it’s essential that humans develop a respectful relationship about how they interact with the species.
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