Video has surfaced of an awe-inspiring humpback whale encounter off the B.C. coast.

The majestic creature approached a Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching tour group near Saturna Island on Saturday night, and spent more than an hour surfacing just an arm’s length from appreciative onlookers.

Heather MacIntyre, a marine naturalist who was working on the boat, said it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience she won’t forget.

“When a wild animal comes up to you and picks you to connect with… it’s amazing and it’s inspiring and it’s baffling,” she said.

B.C. guidelines bar tour groups from positioning boats within 100 yards of a whale, but sometimes the cetaceans have plans of their own. They’re known in whale watching circles as “friendlies.”

“This whale is known to whale watchers to be very friendly,” MacIntyre said. “I watched her go up to other boats and do that the whole day.”

In those circumstances, vessels are told to place their engines in neutral and let the whales pass, though the humpback caught on camera Saturday appeared to be in no rush to move.

MacIntyre said her boat complied with all the rules, including those against making physical contact.

“I really, really, really wanted to touch the whale,” she admitted.

Another whale watching company, Prince of Whales in Victoria, managed to track 23 separate humpbacks in three hours last season.

Experts say incredible sightings like these could become more common in B.C. waters, thanks to a major comeback in the humpback population.

Tessa Danelesko of the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network said there are currently about 2,000 whales that spend time off the coast, up from the mere 1,000 left when whaling was outlawed in 1968.

“They still are continuing to recover from historic whaling,” Danelesko said. “That’s still only half of the pre-whaling population.”

Female humpbacks only give birth to one calf every two-three years, however, so progress is slow-going.

Danelesko said the whales start to appear off the B.C. coast in the spring, and usually hang around for the summer to enjoy abundant food sources.

Even with whaling outlawed, a number of dangers remain, she added.

“Humpback whales still do face a number of threats, including entanglement and ship-strike, and that’s something we’re continuing to monitor,” Danelesko said.

Anyone who spots a whale is asked to contact the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network by phoning 1-866-ISAWONE or emailing

With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Mi-Jung Lee