British Columbia

A kayaker spent 2 weeks paddling alongside humpback whales and filmed the whole thing

Humpback whales, which were nearly absent from B.C.’s coast for decades, have undergone a resurgence in recent years, which Bob Turner says is a good opportunity for people to be "good neighbours."

'Whales energize us and make us believe that there is some optimism in the ocean,' Bob Turner says

Bowen Island resident Bob Turner says the resurgence of humpback whales is cause for celebration and reflection. (Bob Turner)

When Bob Turner moved to Bowen Island in 1989, it was a "quieter ocean."

By that, he means there was less wildlife activity in the water nearby — no herring, no anchovies, and therefore no predators like sea lions and orcas.

And there were certainly no humpback whales.

But the species, which was nearly absent from B.C.'s coast for decades, has undergone a resurgence in recent years. Last month, researchers said the the population off northeastern Vancouver Island reached 86 in 2018, up from just seven in 2004.

The whales have even ventured into the Bowen Island area, and Turner has been spending time out in his kayak, watching and filming them.

"Typically, I would never go looking for a humpback — it's just like finding a needle in a haystack," he told Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC's On the Coast.

Bob Turner spent two weeks in October 2018 in his kayak, watching humpback whales near Bowen Island. (Bob Turner)

In 2017, Turner heard about humpback whales swimming along the west side of Bowen Island, and was able to catch a glimpse of them during their short stay. One year later, he took his kayak out for two weeks to spend time with the whales.

Since it was posted on YouTube, his narrated video has garnered thousands of views — which Turner has mixed feelings about.

He said it could be problematic if too many people start coming to the area for whale watching.


"I worry a lot about the whale-watching industry and its impact on whales," he said. "Within the commercial whale-watching fleet, I mean, they've got radios they're in contact and you know when a whale is sighted, everybody knows about it."

Two humpback whales near Bowen Island. (Bob Turner)

On the flip side, he sees it as an opportunity for humans to be "good neighbours."

"We need to learn how to stand back enjoy them but let them, you know, do what they need to do," Turner said.

According to the Marine Education and Research Society, humpback whales are identified by the markings on their tails. (Bob Turner)

But more than anything, he said, the growth of the coastal population of humpback whales is inspiring to the nature enthusiast, particularly amid reports of illnesses and deaths among whale populations

"What I have noticed in Howe Sound is that whales energize us and make us believe that there is some optimism in the ocean," Turner said. 

"I think they are a fantastic antidepressant and invigorate us to get in there and work hard on protecting the marine ecology, which is what the whales depend on."

With files from On the Coast


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