Paddleboarders treated to rare sight of humpback breaching in English Bay

Humpback whale

It seems Vancouverites don’t have to go far to catch a glimpse of a whale this spring.

Last week, a humpback whale surfaced just a couple of feet from two kayakers, who went searching for the animal after they’d heard it had been spotted in English Bay. The men posted a video of the once-in-a-lifetime encounter on Instagram, and it quickly garnered thousands of views. Then on Saturday, less than a week after the kayakers’ experience, another pair captured a video of the whale breaching in the bay.

Stand-up paddleboard instructor Kristy Wright Schell and her husband Adam Schell were paddling their boards from Locarno Beach to the Vancouver Yacht Club when they spotted the humpback about 100 metres away. Being a fairly safe distance from it, they decided to sit still and watch.

“It was really calm,” Wright Schell told the Vancouver Sun. “We’ve experienced humpbacks feeding, and they circle and submerge a minute or two, then resurface. She’d been under the water two minutes and the seal next to my husband, you can hear on the video, was breathing heavy.”

That’s when Wright Schell began questioning their safety.

“My heart was beating and all I could think was, ‘Please, don’t come up close.’ When they are down that long clearly they can move far distances,” she told the Sun.

In the video, the whale propels itself into the air, breaching directly in front of the couple, not once but twice. When you hear Wright Schell and her husband’s reactions, you can tell what a powerful experience it was to be there in the flesh.

“Your heart catches in your chest for a second because you can’t believe that something like that happened,” Schell told CTV News.

The whale has been hanging out in the area since March, captivating the beachgoers and boaters who have been lucky enough to see it.

While whale-sightings are common on the West Coast this time of year, as they migrate through the Straight of Georgia and Howe Sound, they don’t usually swim into high-traffic areas like English Bay, which is located just west of Vancouver’s downtown peninsula.

In fact, this is the closest Wright Schell has ever been to a whale, and she’s been operating Stand Up Paddle Vancouver since 2011.

Chad Nordstrom, a researcher with the Vancouver Aquarium’s marine mammal research program, told the Sun that they believe the whale is prospecting for food, and he’s clearly found something that’s keeping him there.