A kayaker who was filmed mere feet away from a surfacing humpback whale over the weekend says he was completely caught off guard by the encounter – and so was the whale. 

Wade Peeler and a friend went kayaking in English Bay hoping to catch a glimpse of the cetacean, believed to be the same one that’s been hanging around the area for weeks, but the outdoorsmen insist they never intended to get as close as they did.

Peeler told CTV News they spotted the whale a couple hundred yards away and stopped so he could clear up space on his phone for pictures.

“All of a sudden a blow hole popped up just to my right,” he said. “I literally could have just put my hand out on its whale tail. If I was cognizant I could have high-fived him, but it was just too quick. You’re awe-struck.”

The whale seemed surprised too, according to Peeler, who said he saw the creature’s eyes widen as it surfaced.

“I could swear he looked me in the eye. He looked just as surprised that I was there as I was that he was there,” he said.

Peeler’s friend was recording video when it happened, and posted footage of the extreme close-encounter on YouTube and Instagram Sunday. It’s since made headlines across Canada, and led some people to question why the kayakers didn’t do more to give the humpback space.

Peeler said that while they had been hoping to see the whale, they did their best to keep an appropriate distance.

“A lot of people think we were out there trying to follow him. I didn’t want to get that close to him,” Peeler said. “I have zoom on my camera, I don’t need to get that close.”

The Vancouver Aquarium warns that getting close to marine wildlife, particularly whales, isn’t safe. Its Be Whale Wise guidelines recommend that people maintain a 100-metre distance from whales and always steer clear of their path.

“When people get too close to marine wildlife like whales, it can be really dangerous for both the whales and the people,” said Tessa Danelesko, coordinator of the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network.

“We need to be thinking about these whales possibly making contact with vessels.”