KAYAKING WITH A HUMPBACK WHALE IN NEW YORK CITY

No waves, but a humpback whale on the horizon. Photo Tim Hill

This past weekend, I had the unique opportunity to kayak with an adolescent humpback in Rockaway Beach. And it’s crazy because I have been reading a very disturbing book by David Kirby titled, Death At SeaWorld. The book examines how unethical and inhumane it is to keep killer whales in captivity.

That morning, as I was bike riding on the boardwalk, I saw two lifeguards spying something with binoculars, and it didn’t take me long to realize they had spotted a whale down the coast.

I biked down to get a better look, and then I noticed that the whale had turned, and was heading back east toward where I live. Since I was on my bike, I raced in front of it to get my kayak.

When I reached my street, I saw my friend Vinnie, and he already had the same idea, except he was running to get his stand up paddle board. And like, two firefighters rushing to extinguish a fire, we were in the water within minutes.

It didn’t take us long to get out to where the whale was feeding, and when the whale came up for air it was amazing. From the beach you can’t really hear it, but when you’re up close like we were, the sound the whale makes when it surfaces is like a powerful whoosh!

We followed the whale east along the coast. I had this feeling that it knew we were there, and was probably just as curious as we were, so it let us get close, but not too close. Then at one point, it turned on the speed and left us in its wake.

I followed it down to 67th Street, and I was about to head back when I noticed the whale was turning around. It came really close to the jetty, right in front of the surf schools. It breached and came splashing down. People on the beach cheered and it almost seemed as if the whale was deliberately putting on a show.

The humpback turned once again, and headed toward deeper water. I caught up with whale, it was on my port side and I was keeping a steady pace. Then it went under and didn’t come up for a while. I continued on my course out to sea, and kept a steady watch on my port side. It was then, off my starboard side I heard, whoosh!

The whale surfaced about twenty-yards from me, but instead of heading out to sea, it was back on a westerly course, directly off my kayak. Meaning, the whale had swum under me, and resurfaced on the other side. And to say that didn’t freak me out a bit, would be a lie. I mean we were in about 30ft of water, and this whale was at least 25ft, so there’s not much wiggle room.

The whale spy hopped and breached several times during this whole experience. One time he came bursting out of the water chomping on fish, and then splashed down on its back side. It was amazing to say the least, but the best was yet to come.

I caught up with my friend Vinnie again, and we floated in front of the surfing beach at 90th street talking about what we had just witnessed. All around us there were thousands and thousands of bunker in the water. At this point, we had thought the whale took off, but then we noticed it was coming back and heading right for us.

We waited and then began to follow it again. The whale went under and Vinnie paddled about twenty-five yards off my port side. The water was calm and there was no sign of it, and then all of a sudden, right in front of Vinnie it surfaced again. Whoosh! It was so close that he could have jumped on its back.

We followed and it breached again and continued up the peninsula. Since we had both been out for nearly two hours, we decided to go in. On the paddle back, I mentioned how not too many people in world can say they were in the water with whales today. I mean what are we talking, a few hundred people, maybe a thousand on the entire planet.

Later that day I thought, wait a minute, we did this in the waters off New York City, and that put us in an even greater minority. Forget the world, how many people in the city were in the water with whales? Or even saw them? No matter what the number is, I’ll never forget this day, but I hope to do it again. But next time, I’m bringing a camera.

Coming this weekend, a review of the book, Death At Sea World. Stay in the loop by following me on Twitter: @mentalswagblog. And next time you’re on Facebook, please “LIKE” the new MentalSwag.com page.