A family from BC had a thrilling experience off the coast of Vancouver Island when a humpback whale rubbed against their boat, spinning and flapping its fins for nearly an hour.
Aleks Mount was whale watching with his family, northeast of Campbell River, on Tuesday when the whale befriended.
When they first spotted the humpback whale about 100 yards away, Mount said he immediately turned off his engine, intending to keep his distance.
But the whale dived underwater only to resurface under their boat less than a minute later.
Mount said he and his family were initially terrified of the creature, which he described as the size of a school bus.
“All it has to do is flip its tail and the boat will be in the air.”
Mount’s video footage shows the whale spinning and spinning just inches from the boat, occasionally spraying them out of the blowhole.
“I could just touch it. It just rubbed gently against the boat, went under, got out,” said Mount, who has been an avid whale watcher 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 the engine, and was afraid the boat’s propeller would cut the whale.
So they watched and waited.
Fortunately, Mount said, the whale only hit the boat once with its fin, leaving a slight bend in the boat’s railing and a few minor scratches.
A marine specialist later identified the humpback whale to Mount as a young man named Neowise.
Mount said they were very lucky that the whale was so aware of its body and did no more damage.
“I’ll forget my name and who I am before I forget…it felt very special to share that moment,” Mount said.
Andrew Trites, director of the marine mammal research unit at the University of British Columbia, said that despite hearing a few recent reports of humpback whales engaging in boats, this is the closest he’s seen.
“Nothing quite as special as this one,” Trites said.
Trites thinks the whale may have been attracted to the boat’s depth sounder — a device that measures the depth of water beneath a boat by emitting sound.
This high-frequency sound is similar to the sound whales use to communicate, Trites said.
“To the humpback whale, this seems to be another living creature that’s almost its own size. It’s something it can interact with,” Trites said.
Mount confirmed that his depth sounder was on before shutting down the boat when he spotted the whale.
Trites said whales may not have full control over where their tails and fins flop, creating a potentially dangerous situation.
“These are gentle giants, but they can unintentionally do a lot of damage … it can be potentially deadly,” Trites said.
Trites said humpback whales were hunted to near extinction about a century ago, and have only reappeared off the coast of BC in the last 20 years.
As people encounter more whales, Trites said education is crucial to developing a mutually respectful relationship with the creatures.
He advises boats to keep their distance — turning off a boat’s depth sounder may be one way to do that, he said — and go at a slow pace when they spot a whale.
Whale, be mine?
According to Trites, it is typical for young male humpback whales to behave playfully.
He said that while these humpback whales mate in winter when they travel south, young males often spend time practicing their love songs prior to mating season.
“It may very well be that this young man really sang for the boat,” Trites said.
“They need to practice with someone, why not a boat?”