Kayaking amid whales a recipe for disaster, captain warns

Kayaking amid whales a recipe for disaster, captain warns

Outdoors

Kayaking amid whales a recipe for disaster, captain warns

A kayaker intent on capturing up-close footage of foraging humpback whales was nearly capsized by one of the 40-ton mammals Sunday morning, and seemed oblivious to the danger.

The accompanying images, courtesy of Capt. Kate Spencer of the vessel Fast Raft in California’s Monterey Bay, reveal what has become an all-to-common occurrence at a time when dozens of humpback whales are in the area lunge-feeding on schooling anchovies.

“No one has died yet, but when I see things like this, I’m just waiting to have to pull someone out of the water,” Spencer wrote on Facebook. “And my back doesn’t want to have to do that.”

There were other kayakers nearby, also “playing chicken” with whales, observed Don Baccus, a photographer aboard Fast Raft, a six-passenger inflatable outboard.

Lunge feeding, either vertically or horizontally, is a swift and powerful behavior. Whales should always be watched from a safe distance; NOAA guidelines suggest keeping a distance of 100 yards when possible.

The images provided by Spencer focus on a paddler in a green kayak, who was almost knocked over by the second of two whales feeding in close quarters.

Early images show part of the second whale emerge as it lunges horizontally between the kayaker and the whale with its mouth aimed skyward, after it had plowed vertically through a school of anchovies.(Note the displacement of anchovies.)

Later images show the man losing his balance, losing his paddle (briefly), and nearly rolling out of his kayak, while trying to maintain position of his camera.

“He prioritized getting the video over safety, holding the GoPro stick up instead of getting his paddle and starting to move away,” Spencer wrote. “The whales were in pairs. He should have realized a second one would be coming…. It’s luck that he wasn’t toppled.”

The man somehow regained his balance and seemed to have enjoyed the encounter.

Of the nearby kayakers, Spencer wrote:

“The videos these people got and their tales of adrenaline and wonder may go viral and will encourage other inexperienced paddlers to come out of the Moss Landing harbor to see whales.

“Conditions often get very dangerous for small craft, and by afternoon it was nasty out there. People who aren’t longtime paddlers don’t know safety precautions and don’t have experience with whales to know what to expect and what to do (like stop taking video to stay safe).”

NOAA’s whale-watching guidelines are not laws, but harassing whales violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Harassment is defined as any act that alters a whale’s behavior.

NOAA Fisheries declined to provide a statement for this story.

–Photos for this story were used with the permission of ©Kate Spencer/Fast Raft

The Latest

More BNQT
Home