Kayaking with Whales - Is it Dangerous?

Canoes and Kayaks

If you’re a kayaker, the chance of encountering a whale is pretty slim. But if you do happen to see one while out on the water, it can be an amazing experience. Kayaking with whales may seem fairly daunting, but as long as you take some precautions, it’s perfectly safe. Here are some tips for staying safe when kayaking with these gentle giants.

whale eats kayak

Do whales attack kayakers?

In the wild, whales tend to not attack people, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be cautious when kayaking near one. 

Whales do not eat people. Their diet primarily consists of small aquatic life such as fish, squid and krill. They are not known for eating/consuming people. Most whale species are gentle, friendly and overall just curious about humans and therefore would rarely attack unless provoked or threatened.

There have been a few incidents of kayakers seemingly having some close call with whales. However, these are purely a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

In November 2020, in Avila Beach, California, a whale chasing a school of fish was caught on camera as it breached the surface. Two kayakers, Julie McSorley and Liz Cottriel were almost swallowed up in the feeding frenzy.  Luckily both survived without any injuries. Unfortunately Julie’s car keys were not as lucky.

Here’s another amazing example of a whale breaching while feeding at Moss Landing, California caught on camera by an excited kayaker who had front row seats only a few feet away! Check out all the fish trying to escape.

What should you do if you see a whale while kayaking?

Your best option is to try to stay out of their way. If a whale approaches very close to you, stop paddling immediately and let it pass, without making sudden noises or movements.

The most important safety measure kayakers should take is to keep a respectful distance of 100 yards, or twice that if a mother whale is nursing a calf. You should never attempt to chase or pet the marine life.

Do Orcas (killer whales) attack people?

There has never been a report of orcas attacking humans in the wild, despite the fact we have been kayaking, snorkelling and scuba diving in the water with them for decades. Orcas gained the name ‘killer whales’ from ancient sailors witnessing Orcas hunting other species of whale and not from attacking humans.

Where can you go kayaking with whales?

Kayaking with whales is one of the most memorable experiences you can have on a kayak. Luckily enough, the US has numerous spots where you can get to see these magnificent creatures up close. Below are some of the top spots to go kayaking with whales in the United States:

Oregon

Sometimes you may find orcas off the coast of Oregon around the middle of April. Specifically around the coast of Newport and into into Yaquina Bay, where they can be found hunting seals and sea lions. You also might be lucky enough to see minke whales and humpback whales, as well as different species of dolphins and porpoises. 

Alaska

Alaska is considered one of the best opportunities to see whales in their natural habitat. There are some fantastic whale kayaking tours that depart from Juneau Alaska. The best time to kayak with whales is considered to be May through to September.

Washington

Washington also have some of the best locations in the country for a chance to see orcas in the wild. Kayaking San Juan Islands which includes the aptly named Orcas Island is popular with paddlers and whale enthusiasts.  May to September can be the best time to visit, but there are also resident pods in Washington all year round.

California

California’s coastline is fantastic for whale viewing each year from November through to April with whales migrating south from Alaska to mate. You can find whale tours from San Fransisco all the way south to kayak in San Diego. As per the video above, you can kayak in Moss Landing, California to get up close and personal with he whales. A kayak tour in La Jolla Shores in San Diego is another popular location offering some pretty neat experiences kayaking with whales.

Hawaii

Kayaking the Hawaiian Island of Maui is considered to be one of the world’s best kayaking destinations for whale encounters. Maui’s western shore is a breeding ground for thousands of humpback whales that make their  annual migration to these calm waters. The calm waters make kayaking comfortable and safe for paddlers.

February and March are the best months of the year for seeing whales in Maui. There are many tours available to go kayaking with whales in Maui.

Final thoughts

Being up close and personal to whales in their natural environment is truly something to behold. Whale watching from a kayak is even better. Despite a few incidents of kayakers being knock off their boats, being attacked by whales should not be something you fear. Keeps you wits about you, especially during a feeding frenzy and just enjoy the experience!

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