Strange possible encounter ...

Paddling today off Ft. Wetherill, in Rhode Island, around 2:30 today, I had a strange possible encounter with some kind of critter. I say possible, because I don’t know for sure, but it was odd enough to have me wondering.

Heading back towards the landing at the state park, heading south along the rocks, just coming up on Fort Cove, in gentle swells, when my boat suddenly accelerated then spun 90 degrees. It was as if something pushed the boat forward then the stern clockwise. This was very smooth, there was no bump of contact, just a sudden and steady push. It all happened in less than 5 seconds I’d guess.

I was paddling at an easy, steady pace. It startled me, and my first reaction was to stop paddling and prepare to brace, then look behind me for a wave. I turned to the left, and what I saw was something about 3 feet behind the boat, at the very edge of my sight, more behind my right side, that looked like a smooth, rubber, dark gray fin, but not upright like a classic dorsal fin. It was more like at a 45 degree angle, and went down down quickly in a splash, like a fin or flipper.

If it were not for this fin, or what ever it was, the feeling most reminded me of getting caught in a current. One sharp enough to grab the boat and spin it. I know there are currents around there, and there were some sharply defined ones north of there, around the cove and rocks coming in to the marina area. But there was nothing at least that I could see around where I was. Nothing I noticed paddling in to, or action around the boat.

There were black comerants around, and it could have been one of those … at least what I saw. The spin could have been strong random current. But it looked rubbery, not like feathers. On the other hand, it was a fast look, so perhaps my mind filled in some blanks.

There are seals around there, so perhaps one of those came to have a look? I know there have been sharks reported on the Cape.

I know others on this board paddle that area … could this be a random current and a bird? Or something else? A very unique experience for me.

Possibilities abound, but…
It is likely that this was an animal interaction of this type. This behavior suggests marine mammal (most likely dolphin), though that is by no means definite. Sharks will give kayaks a solid thump - they don’t play around - prior to making a decision as to whether to attack or not. Other fish are much less likely to do something like this.

Dolphins and seals tend to be playful and have been known to push boats, people, and objects in the water. They are bright enough to hang around to see what reaction they may get. California sea lions (the animals with which I’m most familiar), are less likely to be this type of playful, though I have had them leap over the boat and look me directly in the eye as they pass. More commonly, they approach from behind, following closely. They will stay there for long periods if you don’t catch them at it.

Other seals may be more likely to play with a kayaker, but what I observe and read suggests that the Cal. sea lions are about as aggressive as seals (eared and true) get. Harbor seals are certainly way too aloof to do this and I’ve never seen them approach boats except from astern. I’ve also never seen them interact directly with a boat. They are curious, but as a group seem to be much more concerned for their safety.

If I were guessing, I would guess it was either an adolescent dolphin that was expelled from the pod because it has reached a certain age or an adult guilty of some pod disapproved behavior and seeking a new one. Once on their own, the behavior of these animals gets pretty unpredictable. When they are looking for acceptance of another pod, they have been known to approach humans.

Since they range in color and size, based upon species, the fin you describe could well have been a dolphin or pilot whale (also a dolphin, they now know) swimming somewhat on its side. They do this commonly, particularly when they want to get a better look at something (especially when they are looking for a reaction).


Sounds like it ,was a sunfish going by the fin description.

What size of boat?
To spin a seakayak it would have to be quite a disturbance in the water. If it was a large GWS you probably would have had it strike the boat hard or do a soft test bite. A shark swimming away fast will leave quite a trail. Dolphins like to come up and interact with kayaks but they don’t do this, they swim around and see who you are and if you are exciting or want to see them do their thing. Once it has greeted you they usually hang around a few minutes before moving on, and often will swim with you for quite a way.

17.6’ Nordlow
Years go, out on Cape Cod, I stuck the bow of a plastic Tempest 170 into a tidal current in the channel going into Orleans. Was going along the edge, saw what looked like ripples, and figured to go right through. It caught the boat, swung it around, and before I knew it I was right out in the channel going with the flow.

The experience today wasn’t that dramatic or fast, but it was an odd feeling to have the boat turn like that. It may have been some kind of current that sort of boiled up from the sea action and seabed.

Dolphin …

– Last Updated: Aug-21-12 11:45 PM EST –

... That was my son's thought. I've not heard of dolphins off New England. There are pilot whales, and sometimes they come in to the bay. But I don't think this was that big. You're right on seals, they seem to stay clear of people. There was no bite or feeling of being struck, so I don't think a shark ... But I'll admit that was my first thought, second thought being how fast could I get up on the rocks if i got flipped over! If it was an animal, I would take this as curiosity or playfulness rather than some kind of attack.

Are sunfish this far north?
My first thought on the fin was, to be honest, shark. But as it was more on its side, flipper of some kind was my second thought. There was something there for sure. What it was, and if it was what moved the boat, i don’t know.

I paddle there often
I’m quite familiar with the area you describe, as are many of my paddling buddies. I posted the link to your post on the RICKA sea kayak message board.

My thoughts:

Seals: we see seals mainly in the cooler seasons in Narragansett Bay, but I’ve heard of harbor seal sightings this summer.

Dolphins/Porpoises: I’ve never seen or heard of dolphins or porpoises around here, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. However, they’re not a species that stays hidden; if they’re there, you’ll know it (I love visiting my family in Santa Barbara where you see them all the time).

Other possibilities: This time of year, when the water’s the warmest, we are most likely to get sub-tropical marine life coming north, but my impression is that the big guys like sharks, pilot whales, etc. tend to stay out in open water (e.g. Rhode Island Sound) and not venture into shallower, more constricted waters like Narragansett Bay. Of course there are notable exceptions like the great white in Hadley’s Harbor (across from Woods Hole, MA) a few years back.

There was a manatee in Narragansett Bay a few summers back, but it was way off course and there was a lot of concern that it wouldn’t make it back home.

As noted in the other response, it would take a large critter to generate enough current to move your boat like that. While there are some boils and eddies in that vicinity when the tide’s at full flow, the glimpse of a fin makes me think it was a critter.

What color is your hull, and what stage of tide was it?

Another possibility

Going out I think …
I believe the tide was going out. There was some visible current (chop) north of where this thing happened, where that old house is up on the rock island … forget the name of the place.

The boat has a white hull, yellow deck.

This my first time paddling there. The tide seems strong along that stretch, and I suppose some kind of lift is possible. But it didn’t seem like that, as there was nothing going on that I could see but the swell.

If something pushed the boat, it did so gently. The first feeling was acceleration, which made me think a wave from behind. But there was no wave, and the boat started to turn. This was not forceful or hard.

kInda embarrassed mentioning it, and I was wondering if this is a natural occurring thing, especially in that area. Curious if others have experienced this. Guess I’d rather it be natural as in current of some sort then a critter.

I remember that movie!
I wonder if Pirates of the Caribbean used that as a basis for that scene when the Pearl’s crew walked along the ocean floor.

Hey, and come to think of it, Ft. Wetherill was used during WWII to house specially “selected” German POW’s … maybe the same KIND of “Death Corps” zombie’s. Maybe some escaped in to the underwater caves around there …

that was me
sorry to have startled you

My vote
is for an eddy line. Looking at the NOAA current predictions for that spot shows that at about 2:30pm yesterday you had some of the strongest ebbing current of the month. I think your bow found the line between the outflow and an eddy. The splashing fin was a bonus coincidence.,+east+of&sbfh=-1&sbfm=10&fldh=-0&fldm=47&sbeh=-1&sbem=10&ebbh=-1&ebbm=33&fldr=0.6&ebbr=0.8&fldavgd=001&ebbavgd=206&footnote=

Sorry, didn’t see you …
… But there may have been some mermaids sunning themselves on the rocks just outside the entrance to the landing …

LOL Pat …

I agree …
… The simplest explanations are usually correct. Just read a post on RICKA talking about the currents and wave actions in this area, rebounds off rock walls, etc. If I had not seen a fin or what ever behind the boat I would have attributed this to something along those lines. I was surprised at the current over by the Dumplings.

There was definitely something behind the boat, most likely a fin or flipper, but was unlikely to be the cause. Just coincidence. Doing some research: dolphins are unusual in this area, and not reported in the bay unless sick. Seals are too skittish. Sharks don’t nudge, they hit.

It does look like a spot for currents …
I looked at google Earth … looks like you could have tidal flows … they can be subtle …

When I was surfing near a small river mouth in New Zealand … the water looked dead calm but my boat kept doing 360s with no visual current on the surface. So you never know.

I like the mermaid idea though.

Probably a bloated jumper.

– Last Updated: Aug-22-12 4:43 PM EST –

I heard one went of the Newport Bridge last week.

Seriously, the rip off Bull Point and the Dumplings is notorious. Dolphins are rare and I've never seen a seal in there in the summer.

The house is named "Clingstone". My wife's cousins from Boston own it.

Oh, and a word of warning about that parking lot at Wetherill. It's a favorite among thieves. Lock up tight and don't leave good stuff visible.

ah crap
Yeah, for some reason they’re attracted to mortal land creaturess. The appeal of the unattainable perhaps?

Might have figured it out …
…Read down and you’ll see they say one of these has flippers like a turtle. So much for stealth … damn may have collided with my boat. Maybe it was like a miniature emergency surface maneuver submarines make.