Close Encounters with Marine Mammals

Canoe & Kayak Magazine recounts previous stories of paddlers' close encounters.

Last Tuesday, Jan. 28, a 60-year-old man canoeing right off the Keauhou shoreline experienced the scare of his life when a whale slapped its tail over his canoe, snapping it in half and plunging him into the water. Neither the whale nor the man in the outrigger canoe were harmed, and events like these are fairly uncommon.

That said, they do exist in the boating world. This event got Canoe & Kayak staff thinking back to the past accounts of marine mammals getting too close for comfort, and here are three of the more out-there stories.

Erik Boomer vs. Walrus

“But the walrus came clear out of the water—his head was over my head—and I could’ve literally poked him in the eyeball with my finger. So I stuck my paddle in his face, sorta like a Heisman stiff arm. There was a large wake. I lost my momentum, and I kinda stalled and spun out. Jon said later he was surprised I stayed upright, and I sorta had to brace. But I’m pretty used to being in boily water and skipping down rocks. But this walrus with foot-long tusks coming at me was something very new. So I turned and hit it the face and just tried to feed him my paddle to keep him off me and my boat.”

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Checking things out. Photo credit: Erik Boomer

Norwegians vs. Polar Bear

“Neither of us woke until the bear ripped into the canvas,” Plur Nilssen says. “It tore the whole front away with one punch.” The predator stormed the tent and bore down on the terrified pair. “I started screaming to Ludvig, but the bear grabbed me and sank its fangs into my neck, dragging me out of my sleeping bag. He then bit my head—a really hard bite that was sickeningly painful. I could feel his teeth going a long way into the flesh and I knew it was serious … It was all going so fast, but then he bit deep into my shoulder and it was agony. The pressure, the force, the power.”

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Eyeing that kayak. Photo credit: Simen Havig-Gjelseth

Seal vs. Sea Kayak

A 4,000-pound elephant seal had dragged itself over expedition mate Sigrid Henjum’s kayak, shearing a 5-foot section of deck from the hull and crushing the front bulkhead. Fortunately, the team had more than a quart of fiberglass resin and several large pieces of fiberglass matting, and their cavernous four-person tunnel tent became a makeshift workshop on one of the world’s most remote and desolate beaches.

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