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Close encounter kayaking with the humpback whales of Santa Cruz


For someone who makes her living bringing the magic of sea life within hands-reach of her lucky clientele, it takes a truly one-of-a-kind experience to surprise naturalist Kim Powell, but that’s exactly what happened on October 25th as she kayaked the waters off Santa Cruz, California.

Launching from the wharf, Karen Roitz and I made our way toward an area where we had seen a few spouts. We stopped paddling and drifted, hopefully anticipating the approach of a whale.

Without much warning, Karen and I were suddenly surrounded by a pod of very energetic sea lions. We observed them quickly altering their course and leaping out of the water, a behavior known as “porpoising,” which occurs when they pursue prey or are being pursued by a predator such as a shark or Orca.

The prey, in this case, were anchovies feeding on plankton off the Santa Cruz boardwalk, but the sea lions had some impressive competition for their meal: whales.

As we instinctively backed up, I encouraged Karen to tap our plastic vessel letting the whale know our location. Then one of the most incredible moments of my twenty-seven- year career as a naturalist occurred. As we drifted and tapped, a humpback whale approached our boat and raised its head out of the water approximately five feet from us. This astounding behavior is known as “spyhopping,” when a whale approaches an object such as a boat to take a better look with glances through the water while its eye remains submerged.

As quietly as it arrived, it stealthily sunk back below the green hued sea. I struggle to find the words to express the feeling that flooded through every nerve in my body. Karen and I were in awe and overloaded by the adrenaline that pulsated through us.


As mentioned earlier, Kim Powell is all about sharing the wonders of the ocean with others, a passion she’s been pursuing since 1985 with her business Blue Water Ventures. The company organizes trips to coastal California, the Sierras, and Florida, as well as international destinations that include Baja California, Belize, the Caribbean and Micronesia. Make no mistake that these are merely sightseeing tours, either, as Powell seeks to provide an up-close-and-personal educational adventure for her clients, young and old.

As the website explains:

In Belize, we kayak through a lush tropical forest exploring a series of nine underground caves. We climb Mayan ruins and live on a remote tropical island snorkeling and kayaking daily. In Baja, we swim alongside whale sharks, the world’s largest fish and snorkel at a sea lion rookery. Eye-to-eye encounters with California Gray whales make Baja one of our most popular trips.

Each year, we snorkel among the The Florida Manatees. For centuries, sailors thought these 2000-pound herbivores were part woman and part fish, seductive fair maidens of the sea.

The following video was taken on one of Blue Water Ventures’ trips for women communing with the gray whales off of Baja.

Full story at Blue Water Ventures (Facebook).

More on the humpback whales in Santa Cruz, CA.:

Close encounters with nature.

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