Scuba divers could barely contain their excitement during a rare face-to-face encounter with a gray whale earlier this week off Monterey, Ca.
Ben Laboy and Nicole Guido-Estrada were part of an expedition with Bamboo Reef Scuba Diving Centers on Sunday when the curious mammal approached, as the divers screamed with glee through their breathing gear.
“Had the experience of a lifetime this morning when a gray whale came up to say hi to me and Nicole on our boat dive at McAbee Pinnacle in Monterey Bay!” Laboy wrote on Facebook. “I will never forget looking into the eye of this majestic animal!”
Reached via email, Laboy said the encounter occurred at a depth of about 40 feet, not far from fabled Cannery Row in downtown Monterey.
“I had seen something behind Nicole, and was squinting at it for a solid 5-10 seconds trying to figure out if it was moving or not,” Laboy said. “And then when it materialized, we both realized it was an animal, and that’s about where the video starts.”
Asked what they were screaming into their masks, Laboy said, “I think I was just saying, ‘Oh my god, that’s a whale!” and Nicole probably exclaimed something a bit more colorful, haha.”
Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a California-based whale researcher, said the gray whale’s behavior appeared to stem from curiosity. The divers did not seem to be in danger.
A Bamboo Reef spokesman said two others in a group of 10 also saw the whale.
The gray whale population is estimated to number about 29,000. The mammals, which can measure to about 50 feet and weigh up to 40 tons, are migrating from summer feeding grounds in Arctic waters to winter nursing lagoons in Baja California, Mexico.
The southbound migration is currently peaking off Central and Southern California.
On Sunday, Monterey Bay Whale Watch reported multiple sightings Sunday and posted video clips showing the barnacled cetaceans migrating along the coast (clip posted above).