Paddle boarder experiences close encounter with humpback whale 

It was easy paddle boarding for Kevin Williams of Anchorage in Passage Canal near Whittier, right up until he saw a large, silvery fin emerge on the glassy surface of the water a few feet from his board. 

Williams and his sons, Brian and Erik, had been eying the humpback for most of the afternoon of July 13 from a safe distance when the whale suddenly got a bit too close for comfort, the elder Williams told the Anchorage Daily News. The experience was a scary encounter, he said. 

When the whale swam directly under his paddle board, Williams said he was terrified. 

Then came a big splash and the whale left as quickly as it had come, missing his board just by inches, he said. 

Whales, as we all know, are not small critters. An adult humpback can weight 40 tons and measure over 40 feet long. They are known to summer in Alaska and then migrate to warmer waters, typically Hawaii, in winter months. Prince William Sound is a recognized common feeding environment for the humpbacks. 

Suzie Teerlink, a marine mammal specialist in Juneau with NOAA Protected Resources Division, said she doesn’t know how often such close encounters occur, “but when whales are in Alaska, they are very busy feeding,” she said.  


“We see them often so focused on feeding that they inadvertently get close to boats or other small craft,” said Teerlink. 

There are likely over 15,000 humpback whales over the summer statewide, Teerlink said. 

“They are generally pretty good about avoiding floating obstacles, but we caution boaters and water recreators not to assume that whales will be the ones doing the avoiding,” Teerlink said. “Sometimes whales are so focused on feeding or otherwise distracted and they can interact with boats or small craft – a situation that can be dangerous for people and whales.” 

There is no need to report close encounters, unless the encounter results in a vessel strike or gear interaction, or if the whale was injured from the encounter, Teerlink said.  

“Generally speaking, the laws state that we need to watch whales from a distance and do what they can to avoid interactions that might harm whales or even change their behavior,” she said. “If a whale surfaces in an expected location or changes directions such that they are entering your 100 yards or getting closer than you are comfortable, try to make sounds that will help to que the whale into your location (stomping on the hull or banging your paddle against your paddleboard or kayak) and, if you are on a boat, shift into neutral until the whale passes.”