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Surfer unaided by glasses spotted a sea lion that was clearly a whale

Jul 19 2012

Cam Shaw can't see a thing without his glasses on.

But the Tofino man can't surf with glasses, so when a grey whale approached his surf board off Cox Bay on Wednesday, he thought it was a sea lion.

It was about 8 a.m., and Shaw was out on the water with a half-dozen other surfers, waiting for a good set of waves.

The 33-year-old Saskatchewan native and his wife, Kim, moved to Tofino two years ago. They bought the town's chocolate shop and learned to make chocolate themselves.

It was quite a change for Cam, who worked previously as a graphic artist. He had been an avid surfer for 10 years, so moving to the coast meant he could pursue his passion every day before opening the shop at 10 a.m.

Seeing marine wildlife while surfing is somewhat common, he said.

"Frequently sea lions will pop up - it's a little unnerving," said Shaw.

"I'm surfing without my glasses, so I'm the last one to know anything, usually."

On Wednesday, he heard two female surfers say something about a whale. About that moment, he saw the grey whale surface beside him.

"The whale was on its side and one half of its tail fluke was breaking the surface. He got so close, I was thinking he was going to knock me right off my surf board," said Shaw, estimating the distance between them at two metres.

"Then he rolled over on his side and did this little wave with his pectoral fin. It was like a fairy tale. I wondered, is this Free Willy or what?"

Then the whale disappeared and Shaw's attention was drawn to an incoming set of waves.

Reflecting on the encounter later, he called it "a life-changing experience. If there was ever a reason to save the whales, in my mind, it's just been heightened."

Living in Tofino is now even more appealing for Shaw.

"The ocean is just so big and there are so many things that show up in your day-to-day life out there.

There are porpoises and sea lions, but a whale - I haven't heard of that happening. It felt so amazing."

Albert Shepard, another surfer, witnessed the encounter.

"It swam over toward him and as it dove - the tail fluke was out of the water," Shepherd said.

"[Shaw] kind of turned around with his hands outstretched, like, 'What just happened?' " he said.

"I swam over and said, 'I bet you'll remember that for the rest of your life.' "

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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