Humpback whales shocked a bikini-clad surfer and two kayakers this past week when they leapt out of the water and lunged disturbingly close to the group in the waters off Santa Cruz, California.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the humpback whales are traveling unusually close to the shore in search of food. In turn, overeager sightseers are traveling dangerously near to the enormous mammals. The Los Angeles Times writes, “Already, kayaks have been flipped over and a sailboat’s mast was snapped when a whale blasted up from below. In recent days, dozens of kayaks, sailboats, powerboats and snorkelers on surfboards and boogie boards have surrounded the 40-foot mammals en masse as the whales have erupted from the ocean less than a mile from the city’s harbor.”
Barb Roettger, a Santa Cruz massage therapist, captured on film the whales lunging near the surfer and kayakers. She tells the Santa Cruz Sentinel that she was kayaking with a friend, taking photos when she saw the bubble net appear. A bubble net is a feeding technique unique to humpback whales. According to Alaska Whale Foundation, humpback whales use bubbles to catch their prey.
Despite the attention Roettger has garnered for her video, she doesn’t plan to return for more whale watching. While she tried to stay away, the area became so crowded with sightseers, she tells the Sentinel, “It just got so out of hand it wasn’t fair to the whales.”
Another photographer who captured a stunning image of the whales near Santa Cruz now also finds the attention bittersweet. According to the Los Angeles Times, wildlife officials believe the photo, taken by Paul Schraub may have lured even more people to the whales. Officials worry that the large number of people may disrupt the whales and their feeding pattern. Schraub, tells the paper, “It would be good if people used some common sense.”
Paul Michel, superintendent of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, told the San Francisco Chronicle he’s concerned that if the whales’ feeding patterns are disrupted, they may not have the energy needed for the migration to Mexico. Earlier this week, the sanctuary and the U.S. Coast Guard warned the public to stay at least 100 yards away from the humpback whales, or be fined a minimum of $2,500 for harassing the animals.
Sightseers aren’t the only ones posing a challenge to whales. Despite an international moratorium on whaling in 1986, countries such as Japan and Iceland have both faced scrutiny for allegations that they are continuing the practice of killing whales.