A large whale jumps out of the water very close to a small inflatable dingy full of people.

Photo Credit: National Marine Sanctuaries | Flickr

A Dazzling Encounter With a Gentle Giant Can Ruin Your Day—And Theirs

That whale has no idea where your boat is

Unless you’re ready to get tipped, stay away

It’s finally summer. It’s prime time to be on a boat soaking in the fresh ocean breeze. You might even see some sea life that we’re so lucky to live near.

Folks in coastal BC have hit the media lately with tall tales of their stunning whale encounters. Humpbacks have starred in spectacular videos. Hell, we’ve even posted our own story of one such encounter.

But these starry-eyed boaters might not realize how lucky they really are.

Yes, seeing a whale is magical. But if you get too close, it can be truly tragic for both you and the whale.

According to the Marine Education & Research Society (MERS), these whales are pretty oblivious to boats. Baleen whales like humpbacks don’t have biosonar/echolocation. They basically have no idea you’re there until they’re right underneath you.

If they get close without tipping you over, that’s sheer luck.

“[This] has led to much devastation for boaters and whales including death of whales, paralysis of a boater, flipped kayaks, and very significant material damage to vessels,” they warned on their Facebook post.

Those sound like stunning experiences, but not in a good way.

The researchers at MERS say we need more of a focus on safety, respecting wildlife, and getting insights from actual researchers. Especially when these wild videos hit the internet.

“So much effort has gone into education to reduce risk to whales and boaters. We will continue to do so but really need the help from others to spread accurate information and model appropriate behaviour,” MERS posted.

They recommend doing your best to keep a distance of at least 200 metres from any whales you spot.

If a whale does manage to surprise you, do the following:

  • put engines in neutral,
  • if you can, turn them off and lift them out of the water,
  • let the whale(s) get beyond 200 metres away from your boat,
  • don’t start your engine again until they’re moving away from the boat instead of toward it.

Whales are intelligent creatures that like to play. But they are used to playing with logs, sea kelp, and other whales. They’ll knock your boat over without knowing they’re causing harm.

To help keep other folks safe, MERS suggests boaters get a whale warning flag. So, if you see a whale, you can raise it to warn other boaters of its presence.

Our wildlife is beautiful, but it’s best watched from a distance.