Two Central California divers experienced the thrill of a lifetime recently when two lunge-feeding humpback whales emerged only a few feet away as they held onto a safety rope (see video, and pay close attention at 30 seconds).
The amazing encounter occurred during a SloDivers charter at Souza Rock, about two miles off Morro Bay.
Shawn Stamback, one of two divers in the footage, said humpback whales could be seen feeding about a quarter-mile away when he and Francis Antigua got into the water with snorkeling gear and cameras to pass time before their next scuba dive.
"We were just floating around in the water, hoping to get some shots of the whales in the distance, when all of a sudden the sardines started going crazy," Stamback said.
Jay Hebrard and Jeremy Bonnett were videotaping from the boat when the whales lunged upward in full gulp-mode.
Humpback whales weigh up to 40 tons and feed on shrimp-like krill and schooling baitfish, such as sardines. They take in vast amounts of fish and sea water, and expel the water through baleen plates.
It's against the law to harass or alter the behavior of whales and other marine mammals. Boaters are advised to stay at least 100 yards from whales.
Monica DeAngelis, a mammal expert with the National Marine Fisheries Service, said she could not tell based on the video whether the divers were violating any laws.
"[But] they certainly are lucky no one got hurt," she said. "In addition, they were clearly closer than the [100-yard] recommended guidelines."
Stamback said he had a feeling that the whales knew he and Antigua were in the water, and missed them intentionally.
Which is good for him because just before the whales emerged, he noticed that thousands of sardines had amassed beneath him.
"I was right in the middle of the meatball," he said.
--Image is a video screen grab
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