Amazing whale breach

by Matthew Cobb

Astonishing – and scary – footage…

I have never seen a whale (or indeed any cetacean) outside of a zoo (and I feel bad about seeing them, because they shouldn’t be there). Post your encounters with your favourite cetaceans in the comments!


  1. Posted June 26, 2017 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    A lifetime ago, before a serious injury curtailed my career, I was a dive master with an UG degree in marine biology. I took a temporary job in Hawaii as -essentially- a deck hand on an RV attempting to film Humpbacks giving birth (at the time it had not been observed and it was not on this trip either). My job was to make sure the gear the divers and cameramen in the water (and they were all men then) was properly set up, ready and in place when they needed it.

    The whales, especially the calves, were very curious and often came around the boat(s) to see what was going on. All of them spent considerable time peering up at us on deck wondering (I think) what the hell we were doing out of the water. Didn’t we know that was very dangerous?

    On the final day of the research the deck hands were given the opportunity to get in the water with the whales. I opted to not use SCUBA as the noise of the gear sometimes frightened the calves -or at least made them wary. So I snorkeled.

    It was a dream. They are loud, very (very) stinky – their breath smells like rotting fish and they are mammals so they fart- and the cows are often tolerant of humans around their calves! Not many moms are so easy about that. Toward the end of my time in the water, one curious calf came over to visit me with mom and auntie following close behind. The calf checked me out and swam on. As mom (or maybe it was auntie) passed over me, she very gently lifted her flipper so as not to strike me. I was close enough to run my hand along her side and I like to think she let me do it. She was maybe 35 – 40 feet in length and one of the most spectacular animals I have ever seen.

    • darrelle
      Posted June 26, 2017 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

      What a monumental experience. Congratulations. I am very envious.

    • Posted June 26, 2017 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

      I should note that when the whales are near Hawaii they don’t feed, so there is little of that kind of behavior. So nothing like what happened to that boat off New Jersey.

      Mostly the cows hung out together, staying in loose groups, arguing amongst themselves and showing off their little ones to their sisters. The bulls were very loud (underwater it can be deafening) and aggressive towards each other but we saw little of them. The bulls were not allowed around the calves – the cows don’t tolerate them. The older bulls knew well enough to stay away but now and then a young male would make the mistake of coming near the calves. I never really got a good look at what was going on but there was a lot of slapping and splashing and ruckus until the young bulls slinked away.

      It was another life, long gone now.

    • Posted June 26, 2017 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

      Your description of the smells makes it all the more real.

    • Mark R.
      Posted June 26, 2017 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

      Great frickin’ story. Have you ever put it down seriously? I’ve been trying to put down incredible moments in my life on paper. I’m 48, so hopefully have more moments, but I feel every year, I forget a little more what went on when 21 I did this, or 12 did that. Anyway, your story was inspiring re. my own endeavors.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 27, 2017 at 2:28 am | Permalink


    • Posted June 27, 2017 at 6:01 am | Permalink

      Great story. Thanks for sharing it.

    • Kurt Lewis Helf
      Posted June 27, 2017 at 6:14 am | Permalink

      Wonderful story, thanks!

    • Posted June 27, 2017 at 8:52 am | Permalink


  2. ploubere
    Posted June 26, 2017 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    A couple of summers ago I took a whale-watching tour in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington State. All we eventually saw was the back of a gray whale a couple hundred yards away, and its tail when it dove out of sight. Not much to get excited about.

    A month later I was south of Monterey in California on a beach, when a pod of whales started breaching repeatedly nearby. A much better show than the one I had paid for.

  3. Kevin
    Posted June 26, 2017 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    In Maui, coming back from Molokini, I was in a tiny boat with just three other people and a mother and her baby came up to our boat. The baby was longer than our boat and wanted to play, but the mother kept trying to gently get in-between baby and boat. They were so close you touch the, which I did. and I also learned that whales have some kind of hair under their fins.

  4. rickflick
    Posted June 26, 2017 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t had a significant encounter with whales, but I’ve been diving in the Galapagos Islands and we encountered – not cetaceans, but three whale sharks which are the size of a school bus. They were feeding on clouds of krill making big loops through the water column. What amazed me was they never bumped into any of the 6 or 7 divers in our group but came very close as they scooped up their meal within a few feet of us. They are marvels to behold at close range.

  5. John Conoboy
    Posted June 26, 2017 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    My first year of grad school I got a chance to go out on USC’s research vessel a couple of times to dredge samples from the sea floor near Catalina Island. The first time was calm, but the second had a bit of rough seas. Hit with a bad case of seasickness, I was hanging over the rail at the bow in a classic position when several dolphins started surfing the bow wave. It was fantastic to see them even under the circumstances. Since then, I have seen a variety of cetaceans along the central California coast. Saw gray whales from the shore. Went whale watching in Monterey Bay a couple of times. On the first trip we saw a few gray whales and possibly, just possibly, a blue whale. The second trip a couple of years ago out of Moss Landing we saw many, many humpback whales. None breached close enough to the boat to get good pictures. I have a lot of pictures of humpback whale tails and dorsal fins. We also saw quite a few Risso’s dolphins.

  6. Posted June 26, 2017 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Got nothing to compare with mikeyc – that was amazing! When we lived on Point Dume, CA, we would see lots of gray whales on their northbound and southbound migrations. On trips over to the Channel Islands, we would occasionally see other whales including blue and humpback. And on Península Valdés, Argentina, we got up close and personal with southern right whales, including lots of breachings. The peninsula is a location where the orcas come onto the beach to snag sea lions and elephant seals, [and maybe a penguin], but we did not get to witness that.

  7. Posted June 26, 2017 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Two highlights among many very fine encounters: 1) In the grey whale calving grounds of Bahia Magdalena (Pacific coast of Baja California) a mom moving to rejoin her calf on the other side of our zodiac slid right under us, effortlessly lifting a boatload of people several inches out of the water. I have pictures in which you can count the barnacles on her head. 2)In the channel off Juneau, Alaska, we watched for two hours the cooperative “bubble net” feeding behavior of a pod of humpbacks. On several occasions, one (or more) of the whales headed right for our boat, raising flukes at the last minute to dive under us. Less exciting in action but thrilling nevertheless were several nice sightings of blue whales in the Sea of Cortez (same trip as Bahia Magdalena).

  8. Graham
    Posted June 26, 2017 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    In the Spring of 1986 I was on a 4 month detachment down at RAF Stanley in The Falkland Islands. On a visit to one of the outlying islands I happened across a pod of pilot whales that had stranded some time previously. About 20 whales had been washed right up to the high tide line – all looking landward.
    A few days later I witnessed the much happier sight of a mother Commerson’s dolphin and her calf rooting around the kelp beds a few feet from the shore. It was flat calm and the water was crystal clear and these tiny, pied dolphins (the calf was only a 2 or 3 feet long and the adult maybe 6 feet at most) ignored me and snuffled along the shore like little pigs looking for truffles.

  9. Randall Schenck
    Posted June 26, 2017 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    If you ever get the chance – the best beach on Oahu is called Bellows beach. I had seen whales doing their thing a few times there.

  10. ladyatheist
    Posted June 26, 2017 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    No personal experience here, but FYI they made an appearance near San Francisco recently:

  11. Posted June 26, 2017 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    We saw humpbacks off of San Diego, many years ago, on a boat tour that set out to look for them. It was very impressive.

  12. Posted June 26, 2017 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    In Costa Rica in the 1990s I was the resident jungle guide at a beachfront lodge called Marenco Biological Station. I also guided snorkeling trips when the forest was too hot. We could hear the migrating humpbacks singing when our ears were underwater. One day I was out in the ocean in a rubber Zodiac raft snorkeling with a few guests. All of a sudden a humpback whale jumped almost clear of the water very close to our boat, and it was looking down at us with its eye, and we were looking up at it. It crashed into the water and the waves shook our raft. Then it jumped again, and again, each time very close, each time staring down at us with one eye. That “whale in the sky” experience was my best encounter with cetaceans, though we had many other exciting marine mammal experiences there.

    • Posted June 26, 2017 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

      Woa. If it happened nowadays, it would have likely been captured on a cellphone camera.

  13. Mark R.
    Posted June 26, 2017 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    My favorite cetacean sighting occurred less than 10 feet away from me. I was fly fishing for Coho salmon very far up the waterways of the Cook inlet on Alaska’s Kenai peninsula. We were on the “other side” meaning you could only get their by boat or plane. I got there via plane, landing on a slanted beach. A very bumpy landing.

    Anyway, while fly fishing a few days later, the water in front of me went crazy with salmon activity. Soon after, a 15+’ (estimate) Beluga whale came floating by. It blew and dove in the shallow water. It spent a number of minutes thrashing about, obviously hunting and eating. I quickly reeled in my line and stood there, waist deep in the ocean, watching this beautiful white whale have its fill of the salmon I was trying to catch. I mean, the creature was just across the proverbial room. I did end up catching my limit of 3 that day, but I know the Beluga caught a lot more.

    Also have seen Humpbacks off Hawaii and in Alaska, though nothing as dramatic as the Beluga encounter.

  14. Mark R.
    Posted June 26, 2017 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    Bad spelling/grammar as usual when I am excited writing and not proofing. Forgive the improper “their” and such.

    • Mark R.
      Posted June 26, 2017 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

      And then I didn’t reply to mine own…I give up for the night.

  15. busterggi
    Posted June 26, 2017 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    This sort of thing & me being unable to swim keep me a drylander.

  16. Posted June 27, 2017 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    Humpback whale sightings close to shore are common in Eastern Australia. I’ve had the pleasure of standing on a headland on North Stradbroke Island (east of Brisbane) as a female and calf cruised below me just metres from the cliff. Their breath smells poorly.


  17. stuartcoyle
    Posted June 27, 2017 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    I can still remember the horrid stench and sight of the whaling station in Albany, Western Australia. We visited it when I was a child. Terrible business.

    I am so glad that whaling has been shut down here. There’s just a few other countries that we need to get to follow suit.

    On a lighter note, I have seen humpbacks off the Queensland coast and southern right whales too. They are magnificent.

  18. Colin McLachlan
    Posted June 27, 2017 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    While staying in Sharm El Sheikh a couple of years ago, we went on an organised trip to the nearby island of Tiran for a day’s snorkelling among the coral reefs. On the way back we were treated to an impromptu show by some wild dolphins. These dolphins were not being fed by the boatmen, and this was shot in the open sea. You won’t believe what happened next 😉 (sorry about the clickbait).

    • Posted June 27, 2017 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      That’s quite a video, Colin! I wonder what they were doing? – MC

      • rickflick
        Posted June 27, 2017 at 7:38 am | Permalink

        Amazing that the dolphins are swimming backward against gravity. They really only have the side fins to push with in this maneuver. If I had to guess I’d say it had to be a form of play.

        • Colin McLachlan
          Posted June 27, 2017 at 10:34 am | Permalink

          Yes, but they were clearly doing it for our benefit. And of course they must be aware of how it would look to us. That is, they have the brain to visualise how this looks from above. I wonder if they can hear the cheering and clapping.

      • Posted June 27, 2017 at 7:50 am | Permalink

        That is sooo weird!

    • darrelle
      Posted June 27, 2017 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      Very nice Colin.

      My best guesses.

      1) They are practicing a synchronized swimming routine.

      2) They are mooning you.

      • Colin McLachlan
        Posted June 27, 2017 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        I would guess #1. They are practising for the Seaworld™ World Open Synchronised Swimming Championship (SWOSSCh). Now they just need to get to Florida.

        If #2, they’re getting their own back after that swimming trunk incident while I was snorkelling.

        • Diane G.
          Posted June 28, 2017 at 12:14 am | Permalink

          LOL @ both of you! 😀

          Very cool vid, Colin!

  19. Posted June 27, 2017 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    I saw a whale off the coast near Boston, on an organised trip. The whale (a Humpback, I think) came very close to the boat and we saw its eye scan the line of people who were watching it. It was obviously curious, as it had chosen to approach. It was a very moving experience, but I’m not sure why exactly.

  20. darrelle
    Posted June 27, 2017 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Great stories. My one close encounter with a whale in the wild lasted only seconds. I was a teenager surfing off of Satellite Beach, Florida. There were about 8 to 10 other people in the vicinity. We were strung out in a ragged line loitering around for the next set. The weather and the waves were a bit rough. The next set came in and most of us let the first few waves pass waiting for a better one. As I rose up over a passing wave suddenly an enormous mass broke the surface of the water seemingly right next to me. It was shockingly huge. As I slid down into the trough it seemed to loom over me. I took the next wave, a couple seconds perhaps, and hit the beach as fast as I could. So did everyone else.

    If you’ve ever done that little trick where you sprinkle some ground pepper onto a bowl of water then, with a spot of dish soap on your finger tip, touch the surface of the water and watch all of the pepper particles floating on the surface suddenly move to the perimeter of the bowl, that’s pretty much what it was like. One moment a bunch of surfers in the water, the next moment they were all on the beach.

    We didn’t see the whale again but we learned later that it nearly beached itself later that day not too far north of where we were. It’s been a long time so I don’t necessarily trust my memory on this but I think that whale was successfully moved off the beach and back to open waters. I don’t recall what type of whale it was. I only saw it for a few seconds in a pretty active environment. My best guess given the location and the size would be a Right Whale or a Humpback.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 28, 2017 at 12:19 am | Permalink

      “Lasted only seconds,” but permanently engraved in your memory, and understandably so. What a thrill!

      • darrelle
        Posted June 28, 2017 at 7:58 am | Permalink

        Indeed! And luckily it happened in the ocean so no one would notice my small contribution to its contents.

        • Diane G.
          Posted June 28, 2017 at 11:34 pm | Permalink


  21. scawalrus
    Posted June 27, 2017 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    *sigh* Ok, picky, niggly, pedantic I know. But that was no breach. That was clearly a feeding behaviour. Breaching does not involve an open mouth and results in more than a few feet of snout comming out of the water. Wasn’t even spy-hopping.

    And I sincerly hope that they quit dangling fishing hooks into the whale’s meal….

  22. ptheinb
    Posted June 27, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Back in the ’90’s a buddy and I took a week-long kayaking trip in Glacier Bay. Our last night out, we camped on Strawberry island. We had seen Humpbacks breaching the day before. Several times during the night a Humpback would come in close (deep water right up to the shore) roll on their side and slap their fins hard on the water. The sound echoed for miles.

    The next morning we had to paddle about two miles of open water to get to Gustavus. Our party of kayaks got strung out a bit and about half-way across we found ourselves snack in the middle of a pod of whales. The closest adult came within 30 feet of our 12 foot boat. They clearly looked us over but seemed unconcerned. When they breached we were literally looking up at the underside of some flukes. Definitely my best wildlife day ever. Damn they were big…

    • rickflick
      Posted June 27, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      It is surprising that whales don’t seem to harm humans. They come close sometimes but I haven’t heard of a whale actually damaging a boat or ramming one, a la Moby-Dick.

      • Diane G.
        Posted June 28, 2017 at 2:03 am | Permalink

        Esp. given the way humans have persecuted them…and are still doing so in certain locales…

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