Video showing a surfer and two kayakers almost ending up in the mouth of a humpback whale this week near Santa Cruz represents perhaps the most amazing recent footage of lunge-feeding humpback whales in close proximity to people. It's also another example of how reckless some people behave among massive and powerful wild animals.
According to sources, at least one kayaker was capsized and a boat was damaged by surfacing whales during the past week in the same general Monterey Bay location, where a small pod of humpback whales has been feeding on anchovies.
Officers from three agencies have been on the water warning people to steer clear; that these are 40-ton mammals trying to feed, and they often do this by charging upwards and partially out of the water. The whales may not be fully aware of the presence of boats, and especially smaller and quieter kayaks and surfboards.
"The sheer number of folks crowding around the whales is not only an issue for the whales themselves, but also public safety," Paul Michel, superintendent of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Most of the recent close calls cannot accurately be described as accidental. Humpback whales herd massive schools of anchovies toward the surface and feed either by lunging horizontally or vertically into the schools of bait fish.
Vertical lunge-feeding episodes, during which the whales thrust themselves upward and break the surface, are highly visible and hovering gulls and other seabirds reveal the most likely place a lunge-feeding whale can be expected to emerge. Some people have been placing themselves directly in these areas.
It remains unclear whether any citations have been issued for harassment of the protected whales, but officers would have been justified recently in issuing at least a few citations for general cluelessness.
-- Pete Thomas