Several hundred feet above the Keauhou shoreline Tuesday afternoon, Sherri Carney watched a whale slap a one-man canoe.
The whale “flipped up and hit him and the boat flipped over,” Carney said.
Hawaii Fire Department officials said the 60-year-old man suffered only relatively minor injuries. Attempts to reach the man through friends Tuesday and Wednesday were unsuccessful. One friend said the man did not want to speak with any member of the media. The incident happened about a quarter of a mile off the Kanalua at Kona Resort.
After the whale’s tail hit the canoe, the paddler started swimming away, Carney said.
Carney, a Keauhou Canoe Club paddler and self-described “ocean girl,” hopped in her vehicle and raced down to Keauhou Bay, where she saw a friend in his small boat.
“We need to go get this guy,” Carney said she told her friend. “He got slapped by a whale.”
By the time Carney and her friend came around the point, a Captain Zodiac boat had picked the man up. He transferred into Carney’s friend’s boat and they headed back to shore, where they met rescue workers from the Captain Cook Fire Station. Fire officials said the man declined medical treatment.
Carney said he had a few cuts but was otherwise unscathed.
“It was exciting and he was OK,” Carney said. “It all turned out good.”
Justin Viezbicke, a marine conservation coordinator for the Hawaii Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, said Hawaii Island usually records five to 10 interactions between whales and boating vessels a year. But he’s never heard of a whale hitting a one-man outrigger canoe.
“Not all of those are detrimental to the boat or the whale,” Viezbicke said.
People in canoes or on standup paddleboards should move away from a whale if one approaches them, Viezbicke said. The sanctuary asks people in motorized boats not to put the vessel into gear if a whale comes near, because of the risk of hitting the animal.
The sanctuary has three suggestions for people on the water during whale season, Viezbicke added: travel slowly; post a lookout and keep someone at the helm at all times.