Close Encounters Man vs. Nature

Humpback whale ‘punches’ an underwater photographer

Diver Chris Coates takes a hit to the head and hand from pectoral fin as whale passes within a foot; ‘scary’ moment caught on video off Africa

In boxing parlance, it was a right hook that landed. Fortunately, the swinging pectoral fin didn’t knock out cameraman Chris Coates, who got a little too close for comfort while videotaping an approaching humpback whale and its calf in waters off the eastern coast of Africa.

You can hear a whale talking, as if admonishing Coates for his role as an underwater paparazzi. And you can hear Coates grunting out some sort of message, presumably telling the whale to watch out or change course, since it was swimming right at him. JukinVideo posted the rare showdown in this video from the professional underwater cameraman:

Coates, 38, was diving off one of his favorite spearfishing spots and he told JukinVideo’s Mike Skogmo that he always takes a camera, saying “you will be amazed at some of the crazy stuff we see out there. This, however, ranks with some of the craziest I have ever seen.”

Coates had been seeing whales all day, so seeing the whale in the distance was not surprising to him.

“But I must admit, I got quite a shock when it swam right up at me,” he told Skogmo. “At one stage it was only one foot away, and even though I know that they generally don’t hurt people, it’s so big and strong, it is still scary.”

So where did the whale hit Coates?

“The whale hit me on the head and hand,” he said. “I could feel its barnacles scraping over my forehead. The slap with the fin was quite hard, but I don’t think it was trying to hurt me or it would have been way harder. It also must have hit the camera because it hit my hand that was holding the camera.”

On our card, we’re calling it a technical knockout.

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