Humpback whales are particularly curious animals, especially when someone ventures into the waters where they swim. Although they are not very aggressive, it is not uncommon for divers to have the chance to be able to swim with them for a bit or even to touch them under the water.
It is thus without any concern that a boat from Lifeforce Ocean Friends, a Canadian whale conservation NGO, saw a small group of cetaceans approaching the Comox Harbour on the western coast of British Columbia. However, the meeting then took a more unexpected turn. After lifting its head out of the water several times, one of these sea giants came a little too close to the boat.
On the video of the encounter we can clearly see the whale spouting water, tapping its head in passing against one of the windows of the boat, which logically could not resist against the power of the 20-tonne cetacean. ‘This whale may have come a bit too far out of the water to see what was going on, or to see what this strange floating object was. No doubt that this animal was not as graceful as the others,’ Peter Hamilton, the president of the association said.
Such encounters are frequent
After tapping its head against the window, one of the whales lifted the boat slightly with its pectoral fin. ‘I stopped the boat’s engine so that I could enjoy the show and I was able to notice different behaviours,’ says Hamilton, who has been studying the behaviour of whales and orcas on Vancouver Island for three years.
It is quite common for whales, who are quite curious by nature, to check out passing ships. But it is however unlawful to try and provoke these meetings, especially since cetaceans, who are very sensitive to their environment, usually do not come into contact with boats. ‘Meetings of this type can last between one and sixty minutes, and they stayed with me for about twenty minutes,’ Hamilton continues.
This is the tenth time that Peter Hamilton has had this type of meeting in just over three years. Often traveling in small groups of three or four individuals, it is not uncommon for whales to show off by hitting their fins on the surface of the water and diving in characteristic fashions. ‘This behaviour was not unusual, I waited for them to move on as they circled the boat and then I started the engine and slowly moved away,’ says Hamilton.
A growing number, but still under threat
Humpback whales, thanks to conservation efforts, have seen their numbers increase significantly in recent years to a current population of about 35,000. But Peter Hamilton points out that this is not a reason to lower our guard against the many dangers that threaten these animals who can reach the size of a bus as an adult.
‘Boaters must stay at least 330 feet away from humpback whales, and even farther if they have young ones. I hope that this accident, as unintentional as it was, will make it possible to talk about the protection of whales, who are wild animals, and who can sometimes have unpredictable reactions,’ he emphasises, stressing the responsibility for the accident. ‘Whales are not responsible because we are visitors in their habitat.’