The lack of either trade winds or a south swell created the perfect water conditions for me to hop on my paddleboard and venture out into the channel in search of some social humpbacks up for a play date.
I often see people raise an eyebrow when they find out that I’ll take a relatively small board, along with my photography gear and mask, a mile to two miles out from shore during the winter months. Through the years though, I’ve managed to become really comfortable with the water and the quickly changing weather conditions off the south shore, so I feel at home out there and am constantly vigilant about checking for wind shear or changing tides so I don’t get stuck somewhere I don’t want to be.
Aside from getting stuck in the channel and having to hitch a ride back on a fishing boat one time a few years back (which is a story for another day), I’ve seemed to have a lot of luck being at the right place at the right time to have some pretty great encounters with the local marine life. Sunday just so happened to be another one of those days.
I’d been on the water 3+ hours both Friday and Saturday morning so by Sunday I was stiff and sore without even lifting a finger. But I knew this was one of the last days with perfect conditions early on so I couldn’t help but be up before dawn loading my car and heading out to launch.
After seeing a large tiger shark a week before, and dealing with fairly strong undertow at my favorite launching spot, I decided to try another location closer to home and easier to hop in and out of the water. Also I think it’s safe to say it’s less sharky at the new spot too which is never a bad thing.
The beach was barren when I arrived and the water was like glass with just a little hint of a ripple so I paddled out about a mile and found a good place to sit and bob around on my board and hope for a passing whale. As luck would have it, it didn’t take long for two adolescents to make their way west along the coastline and take a minor detour to give me a once over before going on their way. It was around that time I noticed a mother and calf another half mile or so out who had been consistently surfacing in the same general location for a little while.
It didn’t take long to decide to make the extra trek out closer to where they were, and as usual, I’m super glad that I did. The baby was just a wee little one and mom was amazingly patient and tolerant lifting it up on her beak, and letting it play and splash and roll in the waters around her while another couple on a canoe and I took it all in. As they got closer, and were remaining really calm, I slipped in the water next to my board for some underwater shots and video of mom and her cute kiddo. I tried to keep a decent distance, even when she started to float closer, so I made sure not to alarm her vigilant escort.
This particular shot above is one of the first images I took and it’s right after mom and baby swam literally right next to my board, closely followed by the escort who made a slow descent with the water falling from his tail. The silly baby had come up from behind me rather unexpectedly like a little self-propelled rocket and all I could do to get out of the way was use my paddle to turn my board slightly to the right as he charged up on my left spy hopping and showing me nothing but beak all of 18” inches away. Of course mom was hot on his little tail (literally) and ushered him right along where he continued to play and tease her another 10 yards away.
For another hour or so mom, baby and escort gave quite a show, staying in the same small area and swimming in and out of the onlookers, blowing on us, watching us and giving some beautiful tail shots as the adults would dive down below. I ended up paddling in as the wind picked up and the humpback family slowly made their way south, followed by several newly made kayak fans and a pose of boats waiting not far away for their eminent arrival.
It’s crazy to think that I’m fortunate enough to live somewhere that I can literally spend a morning in the “backyard” and have access to all these amazing creatures. Every year when they migrate on, the waters seem so sad and empty and we all, myself included, count the days for their next return.
Additional video footage of the encounter can be found here: