Close Encounters Man vs. Nature

Blue whale capsizes small boat off San Diego

Boaters are unhurt, and somehow manage to capture amazing footage of the harrowing encounter

Blue whale capsizes small boat

Blue whale capsizes small boat off San Diego: Blue whale surfaces with its mouth agape, just feet away from 23-foot inflatable boat; image is a video screen grab

A surface-feeding blue whale capsized a 23-foot inflatable boat Wednesday off San Diego, spilling two people overboard.

The dramatic incident was captured on videotape, and a still photo shows the giant whale breaking the surface, its mouth agape, moments before the boat flipped over (posted above).

Nobody was injured, and perhaps just as remarkable is that the footage survived the harrowing event, which occurred at about noon, 12 miles offshore.

Another boater assisted the two capsize victims, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

In the accompanying CBS News video report, viewers can see the whale opening wide as it feeds on krill at the surface—it was not trying to attack the boat—and the boat tilting upward.

Dale Frink, the photographer aboard with Capt. CiCi Sayer, explains in the news report how he kept his camera safe.

On Thursday Frink stated via email to GrindTv that a second whale, not the whale in the photo, struck and flipped the boat, which sustained extensive damage.

“The two blue whales we were watching were feeding in tandem, the first whale bumped the boat, the second one came up underneath and did the most damage,” Frink explained. “There were multiple blues in the area, these two were initially 100+ yards from us and emerged right next to us.”

Frink on Wednesday night explained the encounter on his Facebook page:

“If you haven’t heard about it already, I was out whale watching today in San Diego when the boat I was a passenger on was overturned by a lunge-feeding blue whale. I was not driving and I was not in control of the Zodiac.

“Neither I nor the captain was hurt save for minor bruises. The captain was doing her best to follow good whale-watching practices by maintaining a distance of greater than 100 yards (I would say we were about 150 yards away) and going into neutral once the whale turned to cross the bow, but unfortunately the whales came up exactly behind us with no time to react.

“Most of the people who think that the video ‘looks bad’ are justifiably concerned for the safety of the whales. I can agree with that, as someone who emphatically encourages safe boating around whales, I feel confident saying that the captain was doing everything within her ability to be safe and respectful for the animals.

“Accidents happen, however, and things would have been a lot worse if proper protocols and modern safety equipment had not been in place.

“I am grateful to the captain of the nearby vessel who pulled us out of the water, and to the folks at Vessel Assist who brought me back in.”

This is the beginning of the blue whale season off Southern California. The whales feed almost exclusively on tiny, shrimp-like krill. Lunge-feeding is done horizontally or vertically. When krill is at the surface, blue whales will lunge upward with their mouths open, taking in giant mouthfuls of krill.

Boaters are urged to exercise caution whenever in the vicinity of these majestic mammals. NOAA guidelines urge boaters to stay at least 100 yards from whales, whenever possible. Harassing  whales, or altering their behavior in any way, is a violation of federal law.

Said Monica DeAngelis, a marine mammal specialist with NOAA: “I think this is a great reminder, more than anything else, that these are wild animals and you are visiting their home.

“This animal was feeding and likely didn’t purposely hit that boat–it was just doing what it does when it feeds. These folks are extremely lucky they didn’t get seriously injured or worse. I’m hoping to talk with Dale to find out if they suspect anything happened to the whale because of this encounter.”

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