Humpback whale gives Vancouver kayaker the video of a lifetime

By: Ashley Gustafson

Courtesy of CBC news


While only a 20 second video clip, John Olynyk and his friend Wade Peeler received the surprise of a life time when they recorded one of the closest encounters of whale and kayak on film. The pair were kayaking on the Spanish Banks beach in Vancouver in hopes of seeing some humpback whales that they had been watching and tracking the previous days. Olynyk spotted the whales about three days before the Instagram-worthy video was captured while he was biking through Stanley Park. He observed the whale feeding just off of Third Beach and staying around the harbor for the next two days. He decided he would go out in hopes of observing the whale but never dreamed he would get so close. He even stated for CBC news, “I had no intention of getting that close.”


The encounter was far closer than either of them anticipated and neither recommends trying to replicate the moment.  When they set out to see this amazing animal, they planned to keep their distance. They both were able to gauge the humpback whale’s general location by using birds swarming above the water and fish jumping out of the water from below. Of course humpback whales spend the majority of their time beneath the ocean surface, but they must breathe air periodically so the men were able to look for the occasional blowhole spray as well. Using these measurements and precautions, the pair were able to record several videos and observe the whale for several hours. After taking so many videos and pictures, Peeler had stopped to delete some files in order to make some more room for new footage on his phone, when both men were startled by a spray from just meters away.


Very clearly (and with good reason) you can hear Peeler exclaim “Oh my god!” on the video. The massive whale surfaces just an arm’s length away from his kayak, diving beneath it with its flukes nearly grazing Peeler himself.  Also important to note: while the size of the whale is ambiguous from the video, the flukes are nearly the length of the kayak; so that is definitely a very close call with a very large animal! With good reason, Peeler has joked by saying, “I almost dropped my phone.”


Both Peeler and Olynyk say the whale approached them, and while they did hit the bay to observe the whale they never dreamed of such a close encounter. They had tracked the whale previously 100 or so meters away however they were unsure where it would surface again. They feel very lucky for this encounter but both say they would never approach a whale or recommend that anyone else does either.


Too close for comfort

Carla Crossman, a marine mammal research biologist with the Vancouver Aquarium, says that this encounter is a great example of too close. Getting this close is not only a bad idea for you and your safety but also harmful to the whales. While observing whales is part of her living, Crossman has gone on to say (about the video), “I would have probably peed my kayak, I would have been that scared. When I’m watching that video, I’m just waiting for the tail to hit his kayak because that is far too close to be in a kayak.”

Courtesy of Awesome Ocean


To put it in perspective, these omnivores can be anywhere from 48 to 62.5 feet (or 14.6 to 19 m) in length and weigh up to 40 tons. That is relatively the size of a school bus. With the ability to breach, or heave their whole body out of the water, on a dime, they are definitely something to be wary of while out at sea. Humpback whales are found near coastlines, and feed mostly on tiny shrimp-like krill, plankton, and small fish.  They are known for their magical songs and their ability to travel great distances through the world’s oceans. Their sounds vary from moans to howls to cries and are most likely for whale to whale communication about location, food, threats, or courtship.


Be Whale Wise Guidelines

Courtesy of Whale Watching Guidelines


While this video is remarkable, it is important to remember that being within 100 meters of a humpback whale is against the “Be Whale Wise” guidelines. While it is obvious that paddle boats are less disruptive than motor boats, their presence is still disruptive to the whales. Whales have many adaptations that allow them to know when something is too close and it is more than likely that by getting too close, you will interfere with natural behaviors and depending on the behaviors the impact to the whale could be severe. For example, if a mother and her calf were disrupted it could cause them to get separated, which is nearly a certain death sentence for a nursing calf.  Another example for humpback whales in B.C, is feeding and migration behavior. Naturally, humpback whales will feed on herring and other small fish in the bay to store up blubber for winter and their immense seasonal migration south.  By getting in their way, this could inhibit why they are here, which as one can imagine could be detrimental to the whale’s survival.


This amazing “bucket list”, wildlife encounter has gone viral and after the video you’ll understand why.  Watch the full video here: