Get to know the photo book "The Most Beautiful Trails of Patagonia"

Torres del Paine, El Chaltén, Bariloche, Ushuaia, Villarrica, Cerro Castillo, Dientes de Navarino and Parque Patagonia

Paddling with whales and dolphins in Brazil

UPDATE: This article reports the encounter with whales and dolphins that I had on 05/23/2021 and was published on 05/30/2021. A few hours after I published, I found a whale again and it was even more exciting because it jumped right next to my kayak, as you can see in the paragraphs at the end of the article.

From 2016 onwards, sightings of humpback whales have been increasingly frequent in São Sebastião and Ilhabela during autumn and winter, when they flee from the polar waters to the Brazilian coast in search of warm waters to breed and give birth.

In the winters of 2018, 2019 and 2020 I paddled several times in search of them but I was never lucky to find them, even though, sometimes, when I came back to my place I found out that they were spotted in the place where I was, a short time before or after me. I don’t deny that it made me angry that I was in the right place at the wrong time, but what could I do but swallow my frustration and go back to the water again? That’s what I did in the fall of 2021, but this time the result was different, thanks to a mix of luck, persistence and the invaluable help of a friend who lives in Ilhabela and has an incredible view to São Sebastião Channel.

After a frustrated attempt and another one in which I quickly saw two whales (or the same two times), on the 05/23/2021, a Sunday, I left Praia Preta do Centro (São Sebastião) towards Ponta da Sela (Ilhabela) , which marks the limit of São Sebastião Channel. After paddling for 40 minutes, the cell phone rings and I already knew that this friend, Gabriella Frugis, had seen something interesting from her porch. It wasn’t actually a whale, but a group of dolphins, which made me go back for 2 km until I found them, on the path marked on the map below by the red line.

Red: paddling south and going back to look for dolphins / Green: paddling with dolphins / Brown: looking for whales / Pink: following the whale(s) / Yellow: going back to São Sebastião

The dolphins were shy, appearing quickly on the surface to breathe, but even so, it is always very good to paddle close to them and I followed the group, which was swimming in the direction of São Sebastião, as shown by the green line. While I was paddling, I saw that there were 3 boats further south. They could be fishing or, who knows, watching whales, so I changed my route after an hour with the dolphins, to find out what was going on (brown line).

As soon as I changed my direction the boats started to move and I did the same, until just 20 minutes later a whale appeared! I drifted for a few minutes and then it appeared again, but on the other side.

I don’t know if it was the same but I changed my course once more, as you can see from the pink line and, after a few minutes, I had the most amazing view of the day, when a humpback jumped 4 times in a row! Unfortunately it wasn’t close and my lens wasn’t suitable for distant scenes, but the image I won’t forget, even without photos. I paddled toward Ilhabela, as it seemed to be the direction it took, and I stayed for two hours in the same place, with the whale appearing every 10 minutes (on average) to get air and submerge to feed again. Sometimes it appeared at 80 or 100 meters from me but, at other times, it went up very close to the kayak, as you can see in the photos below.

Photo of me and the whale made by the owner of a speedboat that was nearby

Photo I took at the same time of the previous photo, in which I appear

At the end of the day it started to swim out of the Channel and I followed it until Ponta da Sela, when I thought I should return because, from there to Praia Preta, it is a 9-km paddle (yellow path) and it would not take long to be dark. In total, I paddled 32 km and stayed in the kayak for 7 hours straight, whether paddling or watching, but the excitement was so great that I barely noticed the time spent in the water.

I had already seen whales in New Zealand, Chile, Hawaii and also in Brazil, but seeing them in my “backyard” and from a kayak is much more exciting … And of course I’m not done, the search won’t stop!

The paragraph above was the last one regarding the sights that I had on 05/23/2021 and, as I had written, the search continued and very successfully! That’s because on Sunday, 05/30/2021, I was picking-up the bike for a mountain-bike session when I looked at the sea and saw a whale passing in front of Praia Preta do Centro. For two seconds I had doubts whether I was going to ride my bike or to paddle but soon I was getting the equipment ready to go to the water, but not without first telling the friends who paddle and live nearby to also have the chance to see it.

Fortunately it was swimming very slowly and I reached it after just 1 km. In fact, I passed it because when it emerged, it was behind me, as you can see in these photos of it passing me.

Whale getting close to my kayak and, in the background, the Port of São Sebastião.

Passing a few meters from me, not caring about the kayak, as there is no noise from engines.

After passing me, getting ready to dive.

A little later, one of the most incredible encounters I ever had with a wild animal happened, rivaling with the encounter that I had with the cougar when I was making the photos for the book The Most Beautiful Trails of Patagonia (photos here). I stopped paddling and, while I waited, I took out my cell phone to update my friends with my position, when I heard a noise, I looked to the side and there was a whale jumping about 20 meters from my kayak!

The poor quality of the image is because they are frames captured from the video made by the GoPro that was attached to my head

Notice that it rotates its body while in the air

When it comes out of the water it has her belly turned towards me

At this moment it is aside to me

And now, with the back turned to me

A few minutes later it jumped again but it was far away and I was unable to photograph or film. It continued swimming slowly towards the south, doing a zigzag, until after almost two hours in the water, I decided to go back because I could see a cold front coming and I didn’t want to be at sea among the lightning.

Here she is passing in front of Barequeçaba Beach and it is possible to see that its body is full of scars

The whale season has just begun and I have seen them on 3 different days, it looks like the 2021 winter will be promising!

Get to know the photo book "The Most Beautiful Trails of Patagonia"

Torres del Paine, El Chaltén, Bariloche, Ushuaia, Villarrica, Cerro Castillo, Dientes de Navarino and Parque Patagonia