Writer has close encounter of the whale kind

Steve Bartlett
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An award-winning Newfoundland writer has quite a story to tell after an encounter with a whale Wednesday.

Michael Winter was rowing off Western Bay Head just before noon when a massive mammal went under his dory and struck the side of it.

“He went under and he stayed under, and then I saw the pectoral fin come up and then he just came and broadsided the dory,” said the author of “The Death of Donna Whalen,” “The Big Why” and “This All Happened.”

“He just came right up underneath the dory, on the one side of it.”

Winter was taking part in the recreational fishery at the time, and had landed two fish.

He estimates being about 200 feet offshore, in a prime spot for jigging cod.

He wasn’t injured or thrown into the water, and his dory wasn’t damaged.

“But it gave me a good jolt.”

After it happened, Winter rowed a few strokes towards shore, collected himself and waited awhile before he resumed fishing.

But then he saw the whale again so he pulled up his jigger and “came home out of it.”

Winter figures he wasn’t making enough noise for the whale to know he was there.

He said he spoke with a marine biologist friend and she suggested he should have been banging on the dory’s gunnels.

He’s already take measures to reduce the chance of a repeat.

“I made a little club to bang the gunnels with if I see one again. I’m a bit leery bout it. If you look at the size of these whales, they are pretty massive. And they’re wonderful to look at a from a distance. It’s just a little shocking to see one up so close.”

Winter captured the encounter on video and posted it on YouTube.

He thought it was a minke whale, but his biologist friend suggested it may have been a baby humpback.

Jack Lawson watched Winter’s video and confirmed it was a humpback.

He’s a whale researcher with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and he wasn’t at all surprised.

“It’s pretty exciting to have one come that close, but we’ve had animals buzz us like that as well,” he said.

If the animal was feeding, Lawson said it might not have cared about Winter being there.

“On the other hand, it might be just playing around, where he’s feeding and there’s a boat there, he might just be giving it a little rub for fun.”

The researcher said it’s tough to advise people how to avoid close encounters of the whale kind.

“Usually the safest thing, of course, is to be making noise. If you’ve got a motor, you’ll be making noise or to, occasionally, knock your oar. If there’s a whale coming around, just tap the side of your boat.”

But that doesn’t always work. Lawson said he’s been on small fishing boats with motors running when humpbacks have crossed in front of their bow.

While what happened was no doubt a rush and makes for a good yarn, don’t expect it to be a scene in Winter’s next novel.

“I think Michael Crummey’s got that covered already in ‘Galore,’” Winter said.


To view Winter’s video, go to the video link near the top of this webpage. (Note, the footage contains some cursing.)


sbartlett@thetelegram.com Twitter: bartlett_steve

Organizations: Death of Donna Whalen, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Western Bay Head

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Recent comments

  • Graham
    August 05, 2011 - 19:13

    Saw this on TV tonight it all looked very much staged to me. How convenient to just have the camers going when the whale came next to the boat. Or did the boat go next to the whale? You decide. Avideo of what NOT to do while in an open boat on the ocean.

  • Johnboy
    August 05, 2011 - 18:41

    Seems our Mr. Winter likes brushes with death. He recounted a tale once of falling into a huge garbage dump fire pit around the bay a few years ago and was saved from the flames just in the nic of time - which made for a great radio interview and now we have a Whale of a Tale with video and pics handy. Anyone sniff a wee bit of self-promotion here or am I just being a bit too cynical .. maybe all this fog is getting to me.

  • charles landon
    August 05, 2011 - 14:52

    such a close encounter would ve turned me grey.

  • Ivan Tucker
    August 05, 2011 - 13:17

    To ! Rick.Comment,"What an advcate for safe boating",your first comments,where right on.but then you ran off the mouth,on your second comment.You should have left it as it was,on your first comment,which i wholeheartedly agree with.Then you lowered yourself by defining NL's as having lower "IQ's,than NS,NB,& PEI,BUT YOU LEFT OUT ON."ON.is my home province as of today,& how many people in ON.have drowned this summer,because of not obeying,designated signs,with warnings on them,of imminent danger,beyond,these signs.Only saying IQ's are fragile no matter where you are from.One bad apple does not spoil the whole barrel.Don't bunch everyone into the same catagory,because of a few waywards.Have a good day.

  • Craig Lee
    August 05, 2011 - 13:01

    Okay obviously he should be wearing a life vest but...forgive me if I am wrong but I thought when fishing for cod it was hook and line, rod and reel...no jiggers or jigging???? I think now that he is on dry land he may want to work on his wording before he sinks a different kind of boat. Or cooks a goose.

  • greg lecuyer
    August 05, 2011 - 12:10

    The Old Fool and the Sea.

  • Silly Newfies
    August 05, 2011 - 11:36

    "What an advocate for safe boating! "He almost tipped the boat over...I'm putting my life jacket on". Duh! Maybe you should have already had it on. Come on Mr. Winter, it's people like you that add to the stats and make things worse for everyone else." Typical Newfies. Not smart enough to put on your life jacket. I have a 10 year old that I can send down from Ontario to show you how to properly boat. It's pretty sad that these people are out on the water their whole lives are aren't intelligent enough to put on a life jacket. I doubt this would happen in NS, NB or PEI. That crowd have higher IQ's.

    • Wow, anoher brainiac
      August 05, 2011 - 14:58

      "Silly Newfies". You are undoubtedly as dumb as you sound. I guess the fact that we're so stupid is reflected in the fact that we are the youngest, richest province in the country, and will continue to grow both artistically as well as economically, while you scratch your head and come up with a few more "newfy" jokes. Ask the rest of the world how dumb were are. Internationally respected and revered. Most people outside Ontario couldn't care less where Ontario even is. Nor what an Ontarian is. No culture, no class = no one cares about you.

  • wendell
    August 05, 2011 - 10:56

    Should be more prepared with that life jacket on at all times... BE SAFE !!! My Dad and older brother would often be visited by sharks around Dildo, Trinity Bay while fishing years ago from a 14 foot pun, and had a close encounter one evening when a large shark grabbed the prop on his small 3 hp Johnson engine and stopped the boat dead in the water. Dad had to hit the shark several times on the head with the sculling oar to get the shark to let go...Later, after talking to some scientists from MUN, my Dad was asked if the bottom of his boat was white,, as this attracts species of sharks and whales. Dad painted the bottom of his boat copper red and had no encounters after he did that. That particular shark was caught in a net by local fishermen that night and measured 17 feet long. Paint the bottom of your boat, you will have no more trouble...

  • wayne Brace
    August 05, 2011 - 10:12

    Wow impressive. I also fish from a dory and have come close but have never been struck by a whale.The lifejacket thing is a no brainer ! Wear it at all times on the water.

  • Willie Hunt Pouch Cove NL
    August 05, 2011 - 07:31

    I don't wear my lifejacket when I'm out in a dory either and you got to have on a pair of rubbers or youll get you're feet soaked to the skin. If anything happens I'll put on my lifejacket and kick off the boots if I have to go in the ocean but nothing ever happens and probably never will. I got enough cod in the freezer now to last till this time next year. Willie Hunt Pouch Cove NL

    • RIck
      August 05, 2011 - 09:35

      What an advocate for safe boating! "He almost tipped the boat over...I'm putting my life jacket on". Duh! Maybe you should have already had it on. Come on Mr. Winter, it's people like you that add to the stats and make things worse for everyone else.

    • David
      August 05, 2011 - 10:01

      If anything happens I'll put on my lifejacket and kick off the boots if I have to go in the ocean.... That's good hypothetical thinking. But if you had more imagination, you might have said you'll call up Cougar Helicopters and have them on stand-by while you went fishing...then they could quickly lower a rope and haul you away like James Bond. And then you'ds have a cool story in front of the class in the Fall.