Whale mingles with swimmers near beach, but do they even see the mammal?; video

*Update: The same juvenile gray whale was spotted inside Newport Harbor on Thursday

Swimmers at a Southern California resort might have enjoyed an unforgettable close encounter had they seen the 20-foot gray whale probing the shallows just a few yards away.

In remarkable aerial footage captured by Mark Girardeau for Newport Coastal Adventure, the young whale is clearly visible in 6 feet of water as four swimmers appear to be oblivious to its presence. (Best viewed in full-screen mode.)

Gray whale leaves Laguna Beach to continue it’s late northbound migration. Photo: Courtesy of ©Mark Girardeau

People on the shore at Montage Laguna Beach, likewise, seem not to spot the juvenile gray, which appears to be searching for food in the sand.

"I think they were looking into the glare," Girardeau, of Orange County Outdoors, offered as a possible explanation as to why the whale goes unnoticed. "If you look closely on the full screen, a couple of people in the water near the beach saw it, but then they didn't know what it was."

Standup paddlers enjoy a close encounter with gray whale in Dana Point Harbor in this video screen grab.

The young whale, which ought to be off Alaska with thousands of other gray whales at this time of year, has been poking around Southern California ports and bays.

The barnacle-crusted cetacean first generated headlines Monday when it entered Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, in North San Diego County. About 300 people gathered on the highway, trying to catch a glimpse.

On Tuesday morning, about 30 miles to the north, the whale entered Dana Point Harbor in Orange County. It wasn't long before swimmers and paddlers, as well as law enforcement types and TV news crews, teamed to create a circus atmosphere that lasted much of the day.

Capt. David Anderson, who runs Capt. Dave's Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari, described the whale's presence as "very rare" and added that gray whales "are almost never seen in August off the coast of Southern California."

Domenic Biagini, Capt. Dave’s drone operator, also captured remarkable aerial footage (posted above).

A bird’s-eye view of the gray whale leaving Laguna Beach. Photo: Courtesy of ©Mark Girardeau

Corey Hall, a manager at Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watch, said the whale appeared to be trying to feed by turning on its side and foraging along the sandy bottom.

The whale gave curious onlookers the slip, then reappeared farther north off Laguna Beach.

Girardeau said the mammal eventually moved farther offshore to continue its northbound odyssey.

Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a gray whale researcher, said the whale looked skinny, but otherwise reasonably healthy.

Gray whales migrate from Arctic waters to Baja California during the winter, and return during the spring. They spend the summer in Arctic waters, fattening up on shrimp-like amphipods.

Schulman-Janiger said a handful of gray whales are spotted off Southern California each summer, and they're almost always juveniles. The whale passing Southern California now, she said, was born this past winter.

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