Bill Bouton, a retired biology instructor, was having little success photographing birds along the California coast Saturday, but fortunately a small pod of humpback whales arrived to save the day. Bouton’s incredible images, captured off San Luis Obispo, show the mammals lunge-feeding a mere stone’s throw from shore–and much closer to boaters, kayakers, and paddlers (including a woman in a dress; see first image) who seemingly could not resist getting dangerously close to the powerful leviathans.
The proximity of the whales to the coast is somewhat rare and these events can create a very dangerous situation, which viewers might ascertain by Bouton’s images, captured from the road with a 700-milimeter lens and posted on his Flickr page.
Federal guidelines specify that people should stay 100 yards from whales, whenever possible, to prevent harassment of the mammals, which is illegal and punishable by fines up to $50,000.
Humpback whales, which feed on shrimp-like krill but also schooling fish such as anchovies and sardines, can measure to about 50 feet and weigh up to 40 tons. When they’re lunge-feeding they’re focused on little else, and people who venture too close are at risk of becoming seriously injured, or worse.
“It’s just very dangerous because you never know where or when one of the whales is going to pop up,” said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, an American Cetacean Society researcher. “A person on a paddleboard makes very little noise. To the whale that might just seem like a piece of flotsam.”
Bouton, when asked in his Flickr page comments section whether he jumped into the water between shots, replied: “I was sitting in my car, parked along the shoulder of the road overlooking the beach. Got to use my tripod, thank goodness.”
When a person named Mike commented that he wished he would have known about the presence of the whales, Bouton stated: “I just stumbled into it, Mike. (After a disappointing day of bird photography.)”
In other words, the day turned out to be anything but a disappointment.
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