By Miguel Almaguer
Humpback whales are making quite a splash in Santa Cruz, Calif.
In the chilly waters, not far off the coast, a pair of the 40-ton giants nearly swallowed a surfer last week, as the humpbacks grazed for a meal in the fertile water.
The close encounters seem to be on the rise, but the U.S. Coast Guard says it doesn't keep track of all of them. By most accounts, more people than ever before are out tailing whales. The humpbacks are coming closer to shore, where krill and anchovies are in abundance.
With these kinds of encounters happening more frequently, marine biologists worry someone is going to get hurt.
Kera Mathes, a whale expert with the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif., says people should keep their distance.
"Being that close to an 80,000-pound whale when it’s coming up and looking for food isn’t safe," she said. "When these surfers and kayakers are so close, it definitely poses a danger to the whale and those in the water."
Coast Guard boats now scour northern and southern California waters for anyone within 100 yards of blue, humpback, or fin whales. The fine for encroaching on the endangered species is $2,500. Coast Guard Capt. Roger Laferriere likens whale seekers to "someone standing on your kitchen table when you’re trying to eat."
The safest way to see these whales, which have shown up in record numbers this year off the California coast, is to take a tour boat. But hurry. Soon, the whales will be migrating for the winter, leaving behind some close encounters many won’t ever forget.
Watch the full report on Tuesday at 6:30 ET on Nightly News with Brian Williams.