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Same gray whale may be involved in boat-tipping, surfer incidents off Island, story and video

Jul 24 2012
Shirley Antonelli shares the video of a grey whale almost capsizing her boat on a fishing trip on Thursday in the Broken Group Islands. [Heather Thomson, Times] 

Shirley Antonelli shares the video of a grey whale almost capsizing her boat on a fishing trip on Thursday in the Broken Group Islands. [Heather Thomson, Times]

Photograph by: Heather Thomson , Alberni Valley Times

The same juvenile gray whale is believed to behind several recent incidents of close contact with humans, a Department of Fisheries and Oceans official said Monday.

On Wednesday, a surfer at Cox Bay near Tofino was startled when a gray whale sidled up to him while he was floating on his surfboard, awaiting a wave. Then on Thursday, a Port Alberni couple got a scare when a young gray jostled their boat as they fished in the Broken Island group, in the same general area.

Other reported incidents involving a young gray whale interacting with people are similar, said Paul Cottrell, DFO's marine mammal co-ordinator.

"There's an indication this may be the same juvenile whale that's had a few different encounters - and we're watching that. We want to make sure we don't have a whale that's becoming more and more habituated to humans," Cottrell said. "We've had a few encounters where people are trolling, or even stationary and fishing, and there are interactions."

Gray whales can be dangerous due to their size, Cottrell said. "When they are close like that, you always have to be careful."

That's something Joe and Shirley Antonelli, the Port Alberni couple, learned first-hand as a gray nearly flipped their pleasure boat. They caught the frightening experience on video, which is now posted on You Tube.

They had just put down lines, determined to fish for another half hour because the salmon were biting, when a whale, approximately 18 metres long, surfaced directly under the bow of their boat.

Shirley had a front-row seat. She grabbed the boat's bar and began recording video.

What she initially took to be the whale's tail turned out to be its pectoral fin.

Shirley said she could see the whale was about to flick its tail under their boat; she started to worry but didn't have time to panic. She yelled to stop the engine and that's when Joe realized what was going on.

He started to pull up the downrigger and handed Shirley the fishing rod, telling her to start bringing in the line. On opposite sides of the boat, they braced for impact.

The whale hit the boat, which tipped dangerously before righting itself.

Shirley said she thought for a moment that she and Joe were going over. Their sandals squeaked as the boat tilted.

The whale finished its adventure with a few rolls in the water and headed off. Shirley said she is thankful that she managed to record through all the turmoil.

Gray whales migrate to Mexico, where they have greater contact with people, Cottrell said.

"We definitely don't want whales habituating to people," he said. "Once you have that, you can have a problem whale. We want them to remain wild."

He asks that anyone who is approached by a gray whale retreat immediately and report the sighting to the B.C. Mammal Response Network, a 24-hour hotline at 1-800-465-4336.

smcculloch@timescolonist.com


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