WATCH: Humpback whale delights whale watchers with up-close-and-personal encounter

It was an experience with a humpback whale that some whale watchers will never forget.

On Monday afternoon Capt. Jim Maya, along with naturalist Jeanne Hyde, took some whale watchers out in the Haro Strait, off the coast of Victoria and San Juan Island in Washington State.

Maya, who runs Maya’s Westside Whale Watch Charters, has been working on the waters of the Pacific since 1965 and says he has never seen anything like what they saw that day.

They were out on the water when they spotted a humpback whale in the distance. Next thing they knew, the whale surfaced quietly just metres from their boat.

“We were going nowhere, flat, calm water and one of the passengers says ‘oh my gosh, it’s here’,” says Hyde.

She says the whale was so close she could not zoom out far enough on her camera to take pictures. So she turned on her video camera.

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VIDEO: The News Hour story on the Humpback whale sighting

Maya turned off the engine and the boat just floated alongside the humpback who kept spy-hopping around their boat, then floating under their boat, then popping up again.

“Sometimes the head was on one side of the boat, the tail was on the other side of the boat,” says Hyde.

Maya says he estimates the whale was about 35 to 40 feet long and was an immature female. She hung around the boat for about an hour until another boat came along, then she went over there for a short while, before swimming away.

“All of a sudden as quietly as she appeared, she slipped away,” says Maya.

Hyde has been whale watching in that area since 2004 and says she has seen more humpback whales in the waters in the past few years. She has even seen this one before a few times, but never this close.

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Chad Nordstrom, a researcher with the Cetacean Research Lab at the Vancouver Aquarium, says they have been receiving more and more reports of humpback whale sightings along the B.C. coast, especially in the lower Strait of Georgia. Due to commercial whaling in the 1900s, the humpback population was almost wiped out completely. Whaling ended in the 1960s and the population has been slowly growing since then.

Nordstrom says it looks like the whale initiated the interaction with the boat and the people and says what Hyde captured was a “very cool video.”

“However, we don’t want people to head out and try to recreate these experiences,” he says.

For Hyde, she will just remember this encounter for the rest of her life.

“It was the most unbelievable experience,” she says. “I think she was curious. I think we made a connection with her and she with us.”

Watch the full video here:

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