Daniel Joline said his recent encounter with a mother and baby gray whale in the kelp off the Palos Verdes Peninsula was so bizarre and surprising that it almost seemed unreal.
Joline was spearfishing with a friend when he peered down and spotted the whales swimming slowly through the amber forest. The moment Joline realized what they were, he forgot all about the hunt and swam down and gently stroked the whale calf.
"Out of the corner of my eye I see this big mass moving towards me,” he told KPCC. “At first, my brain was like, 'OK, it's a seal,' but then it just kept getting bigger and bigger, so I went, 'Oh, it's a shark.' And it kept getting bigger, and I was like, 'OK. This is a whale!"
The once-in-a-lifetime encounter occurred Friday and footage is being widely shared this week.
Many on whale-themed social media pages were harshly critical of Joline for touching the baby whale, implying that it was illegal harassment.
Joline countered that in no way did his actions harass or alter the behavior of either whale.
“There are some people who don't quite read the regulations, but decide to become white knights on the internet,” Joline stated via email.
Gray whale mothers and calves are bringing up the rear of the annual northbound migration from Baja California nursing grounds to Arctic feeding grounds.
In Baja's lagoons, whale watchers on small boats often caress newborn gray whales, but in those cases the whales initiate the contact. It's also worth noting that there have been cases in the past where divers have been injured after getting between whales and calves.
As cow-calf pairs migrate past California, they often stay close to shore, where there is less danger of being attacked by killer whales.
Said Joline in the KPCC story: “You almost don’t believe it’s real, because just out of nowhere these whales appear, and a minute later they’re gone.”
–Images are video screen grabs