A jogger in Pacifica, Calif., was astonished to see a humpback whale swimming toward her through the surf, seemingly about to beach itself at her feet.
“Whoa, stay back, buddy!,” Roberta Gamble says to the whale, while videotaping the rare encounter earlier this week.
Humpback whales were feeding beyond the surf zone, but this whale chased a school of anchovies almost onto the shore.
It gulps the bait fish, directly in front of Gamble, five seconds into the video. “Oh dear,” she says in the clip, which on Thursday was widely shared on whale-themed Facebook pages.
“Although humpbacks have at times been observed lunge-feeding just outside the surf zone, it is extraordinarily rare to catch one with its belly actually on the sand,” whale researcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger posted on the public group, Cetal Fauna. “I've witnessed humpbacks feeding close to shore here, but always just outside the surf – never this close!”
This behavior has not been documented among humpback whales, but the whale in Gamble's video definitely touched its belly to sand in a determined effort to catch the fleeing anchovies, which are what attracted so many voracious gulls.
It’s not clear, however, if this was intentional strand feeding, or if this whale simply was chasing prey as far as it could before it realized it had run out of liquid real estate. Gamble said the encounter occurred on a remote stretch of beach a half-mile from the nearest parking, south of Pacific Pier, and that only a few other people witnessed the event.
“I was down there for at least 20 or 30 minutes and it was still going on when I left,” she said of the near-shore feeding. “It looked like just the one that close, but there were others not too far away.”
Gamble explained that the whale she videotaped "methodically would swim out then in along the coast, and circle around again." Last month off Pacifica, a group of surfers were riding waves when feeding humpbacks crashed the lineup, in what was also considered a rare event.
–Video screen grabs show the humpback whale gulping anchovies close to shore, and turning back toward sea.
–Note: A version of this post appears on GrindTV.com