Kayaker’s dauntingly close encounter with whale captured in photos

Kayaker’s dauntingly close encounter with whale captured in photos

Outdoors

Kayaker’s dauntingly close encounter with whale captured in photos

A kayaker experienced the thrill of a lifetime Wednesday when a humpback whale surfaced almost within touching range, several times, as he  paddled in California’s Monterey Bay. But was the paddler too close?

Kayaker closely follows whale as it surfaces and dives. Photos are courtesy of ©Gordon Gates

The accompanying images, provided by Gordon Gates, help illustrate the size of a humpback whale – or in this case a whale’s fluke – versus that of a person. (Humpback whales can measure 50-plus feet and weigh 40 tons.)

The images also show the unidentified kayaker seemingly in violation of federal whale-watching guidelines designed to prevent injury to people and whales. (One errant breach, or violent slap of a fluke or pectoral fin, could prove disastrous.)

According to NOAA Fisheries’ California Whale Watching Guidelines, boaters (and kayakers) are asked to remain at least 100 yards from whales. If that’s not possible, boaters are cautioned to avoid crossing paths of whales, and to avoid erratic movements.

NOAA has published similar etiquette guidelines for boaters in sanctuaries, such as the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which advise against chasing or surrounding marine wildlife.

The guidelines are designed to prevent harassment (any act that alters a whale’s behavior), which is a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and can result in hefty fines and jail time.

Gates, who was aboard the High Spirits out of Blue Ocean Whale Watch, wrote on Facebook that the kayaker “noticed that these two Humpback Whales were swimming in a straight line so he positioned himself so the Whales would surface near him.”

Gates, a photographer and naturalist, told USA Today that the kayaker was paddling alongside two whales that were swimming side-by-side, and only one whale is pictured.

Among the comments beneath Gates’ Facebook post was this, from Susan Coe: “That strikes me as incredibly stupid, certainly irresponsible and possibly illegal.”

Humpback whale seemingly reacting to the kayaker’s presence. Photo: ©Gordon Gates

NOAA has seen the photos, but it was not clear at the time of this post if the agency is investigating the encounter.

–Humpback whale images are used with permission of the photographer, ©Gordon Gates

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