Wildlife watching by kayak

Kayaking offers the chance to see eye-to-eye with marine wildlife – as a new book and video clips demonstrate.

Kayaking with basking sharks off Ireland by Jasper Winn

To the casual observer, watching wildlife can seem a little, well, sedentary. Sitting in a hide, binoculars in hand, waiting long hours for the arrival of your chosen bird or mammal. At least, that’s a popular view – and it’s not always far from the truth.

Of course, we all know that just reaching said hide can produce a fair amount of sweat, hiking through the forest, to the lake, up to the clifftop. And let’s face it, for most of us the chance to spot a lolloping hare or a swooping swallow is, if not the raison d’etre for our country walks, at least a very important adjunct.
So James Fair’s article on sea kayaking (May 2011 issue) struck a very resonant chord. As he says, it’s an activity that not only exerts the arms (and, very definitely, the stomach), it’s also a great way to enjoy an eye-to-eye encounter with marine wildlife – otters, kittiwakes, grey seals, or whatever other creatures inhabit your chosen stretch of coastline.
Never tried it? Kayaking is harder than it looks, and even more fun. I've paddled through Galápagos lagoons with turtles plopping into the shallows around me, among seals in remote Icelandic fjords, and along a tributary of the Zambezi, peering nervously at lurking crocs and hippos nearby.
I've argued with lazy co-paddlers (imagine the tiffs between tandem bike-riders, then triple the venom) and gasped along with eagle-eyed safari guides at soaring bateleurs. And I've got wet, tired, cold and thoroughly exhilarated.
Now a new book has arrived to further whet the appetite to start splashing again. Paddle is the story of Jasper Winn’s expedition – verging on the lunatic – to circumnavigate Ireland by kayak. 
Having launched in the most rain-drenched, storm-lashed summer in living memory, Jasper’s voyage yielded tales not only of being battered by waves and joining the bands at impromptu shindigs in pubs around the coast, but also of close encounters with Ireland’s marine denizens, both amorous (grey seals) and enormous (basking sharks).
It's not a wildlife book per se, but it's inevitable that a thousand miles of observation includes a fair bit of animal action.
Take a look at his video clips for a taster:
To check out Jasper’s book, click here

Paul Bloomfield is Deputy Editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine.

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