A group of whale watchers off B.C. Saturna Island were in awe when a humpback whale known to locals as Windy came within reach of their boat last weekend.
"In about 20 years of watching these whales, I've never seen anything like this," said Heather MacIntyre of Legacy Charters.
MacIntyre captured the encounter, in Haro Strait between San Juan Island and Vancouver Island, and off East Point near Patos Island, Wash., was captured by a photographer.
"People were crying — it was just a once-in-a lifetime thing."
MacIntyre, who has a background in biology, said the whale is known to be friendly to boats, but she was surprised it stayed so close for almost an hour.
"I've never seen anything like this," she said.
"When we were waving to her, she would wave her pectoral fin out of the water in response. The more we would shout, she would raise her fluke out of the water and tailslap."
MacIntyre said the six tourists on the charter were moved by the experience.
"These are the kinds of encounters that rewrite the textbooks."
"We were following all regulations"
The wildlife photographer said her employer, Legacy Charters, tries not to get too close to whales.
She maintains the tour operator was more than 180 metres away from the whale when it approached.
"There was nothing we could do, we were following all regulations — there was another boat out there and they could vouch for that," she added.
"It was incredible. I was shaking. We were just mystified and captivated by this whale."
MacIntyre is sharing her images in the hopes it will inspire others to care about the environment.
"People need to know that we are not the only mammal out there that is intelligent and curious and deserves compassion and respect."