Lunging humpback whale nearly swallows up surfer, kayaker

A woman on a surfboard and two people aboard a kayak were nearly engulfed by a humpback whale that charged out of the water, its mouth agape, just a few feet away. Barb Roettger’s video of the amazing encounter, which occurred near Santa Cruz, Calif., was posted Wednesday. The incident is one of several recent close calls in the area, where a small pod of humpback whales has been surface lunge-feeding on anchovies unusually close to shore. They’ve become a major draw for kayakers and boaters and at least one kayaker has been capsized, and a sailboat was struck by a whale. This circus atmosphere has led to an enforcement presence in an attempt to keep people at a safe distance from the potentially dangerous leviathans.

“We had our enforcement guy out on the Harbor Patrol boat yesterday trying to clear people away from the whales,” Paul Michel, superintendent for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel on Wednesday. “We were out there again today on the water but of course the whales moved off. Once the bait fish went away the small pod dispersed. Wherever there is food they will be, so they could come back and we will keep enforcement going through the weekend.”

Officers with the California Department of Fish and Game and Santa Cruz Harbor Patrol also have been on the water cautioning boaters and kayakers, explaining that the whales are protected by federal law and harassing them in any way can draw fines of between $2,500 and $32,000. People for the most part were being cooperative.

Humpback whales, which can measure to 50 feet and weigh 40 tons, are easy to locate because while feeding, they herd giant schools of anchovies to the surface, and birds diving on the bait fish give away the presence of whales. Of course, when the whales are lunge-feeding vertically, breaking the surface with open mouths spilling with anchovies, they’re nearly impossible to miss from any nearby vantage point.