While kayaking in Monterey Bay, California, Tom Mustill and Charlotte Kinloch found themselves on the wrong side of a breaching humpback whale. One week and a viral video later, they sat down to share their side of the story.
Mustill and Kinloch are lucky to be alive and unscathed after a harrowing experience with a breaching humpback whale, caught on this video:
Q. Some on social media have questioned whether it was responsible for you to be out among the whales in the first place. Do you want to set the record straight?
Charlotte: We had exactly that conversation with our guide. We were following the guidelines—staying 100 yards from the whales, not kayaking towards them and moving back if they approached. That said, we hardly needed to be told. Your innate sense of caution tells you to keep back and out of the way of these giant animals.
It’s great people are interested in seeing whales, provided they behave responsibly. Thinking about and becoming fascinated with these creatures is the first step to protecting them.
Tom: One of my first jobs was working as a volunteer guide on a whale-watching boat, making sure boats didn’t approach whales too closely or disrupt their behavior, so I was very aware of the need to stay well back. Also, it’s obvious they can damage you, they’re massive! But in any environment there are risks, and if you go into that environment you have to accept those risks.
A whale breaching onto a kayak in Monterey has never happened before, and I think that was partly chance and partly the recovery of the ecosystem to the point where there are a lot of whales in the water very close to land, so that’s heartening.
Q. Footage taken from a nearby whale-watching ship has made the rounds online. Did you get a chance to speak to anyone who saw the collision first-hand?
Charlotte: We weren’t actually aware that there was a video until the next day. As we were heading back to shore, Tom wanted to talk about it straight away. I had to make him wait until we were safe on land. I couldn’t quite believe that it was over and we weren’t dead, or even hurt.
Our conversations when we got back to the kayak tours office revolved around why that whale had breached so close to us. Had it seen us? Had it intended to have some sort of interaction with us? Were we even a factor? I remember someone saying that whales breach to play. Certainly to my untrained eye the breaches that we had seen earlier in the day and from a distance looked playful to me more than anything else.