Tess Stacey thought the night was over as she and her family boated back to Nanaimo Saturday night — until a sight the young mom of two has been wishing for all her life surfaced out of nowhere.
Two humpback whales, a mother and her calf swam right up to the family’s boat near Nanaimo’s harbour, close enough that her little boy looked into the whale’s eye.
“It’s magical. To have these guys on the boat, the little ones, like that’s a once in a lifetime thing. I’m 33 and they’re 6 and 5 and now have had the coolest whale encounter ever,” said Stacey.
According to Stacey, the humpbacks stayed there for over an hour, and the mother seemed content to let her baby splash and play next to the boat, and even enjoy Elton John on the radio.
“We actually noticed when we put on Elton John the whales were closer, and then the radio changed to some rock and roll and they went away,” she said.
According to Vancouver Island Whale Watch, more humpbacks have been spotted in the Salish Sea in 2020 and 2021 than ever before. As their numbers rebound from whaling that nearly killed them all off in these waters a century ago, so are rare behaviours.
In May, witnesses recorded a pod of transient orcas trying to attack a humpback calf. That would have been a history-making attack here according to researchers, but it’s believed it was thwarted by the calf’s mother who put up a huge fight. Whale watchers said no mother has been seen missing her calf since.
Now new pictures from July 21 show a humpback charging then chasing a pod of 15 transient orcas.
“It was just a tonne of excitement, all of us on board were just so excited to see it,” said Val Watson, a naturalist with Vancouver Island Whale Watch.
“And this humpback just kept coming towards them and trumpeting towards them making noises and kept coming back charging at them,” said Ryan Uslu, also a naturalist with Vancouver Island Whale Watch.
“I think maybe the humpback had a bad experience in the past and was just a little riled up having so many orca close by to him,” said Watson.
It provided onlookers a fascinating glimpse at a species that is getting comfortable in the Salish Sea for the first time in a very long time.
And it’s one Stacey hopes to see again, after a thrilling first meeting she said she will never forget.