It must have been thrilling to paddle so closely to fin whales, which are the world's second-largest inhabitants on the planet (next to blue whales).
But the SUPers pictured above may have placed themselves in danger by traveling so silently in such close proximity to powerful creatures that can weigh up to 70 tons.
The image was captured by Tim Hammond on Sunday from the Voyager off Redondo Beach. It has generated lots of commentary on Facebook, much of it about the wisdom of SUPing with whales and guidelines that urge whale-watchers aboard any craft to try to stay 100 yards or more from whales.
They are just guidelines, as pointed out, but it's against the law to harass whales or cause changes in their behavior. These paddlers may not have been in clear violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but Hammond writes that thy ignored a loud-speaker plea by the Voyager's captain "to back off" and that "they kept paddling to keep up with the whales at about 30 yards or less."
There have been lots of fin whales off Southern California, particularly off the Los Angeles area, in recent weeks, thanks to an abundance of shrimp-like krill. Feeding behavior sometimes includes surface lunging, which could be dangerous for paddlers.
Boat engines make noise, even when the boats are idle, so the whales probably are aware of their presence. But SUP boards make very little noise, even when a paddler is in motion. A whale that may not be aware of a paddler's presence could accidentally injure or kill that paddler.
"One flip of the tail and there they go, and the headline would be 'Whale hits man,' " said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a local researcher.
What is hoped, Hammond implied, is that this photo and any publicity it generates will remind paddlers and boaters to stay at a reasonable distance, because there are a lot of fin whales in the area. There also are lots of gray whales, including many with calves, migrating through the region.Hopefully the publicity won't have the opposite effect and transform the Santa Monica Bay into a SUP-with-the-whales circus, which is what the area resembled at times during the incredible blue whale summer of 2011.