Capt. Larry Hartmann had never seen anything like it: typically elusivefin whalesswarming the 34-foot boat he was piloting and interacting like playful dolphins as he and four passengers watched in awe. At one point a 60-foot whale rolled over like a puppy just beneath the surface alongside the vessel (see video).
This rare event, involving the world's second-largest whale species (blue whalesare the largest), occurred last week about 10 miles off Dana Point in Orange County, Calif. Fin whales can measure nearly 80 feet long and weigh up to 70 tons.
"It's so beyond anything you can even imagine," said Hartmann, a veteran skipper forDana Wharf Whale Watching. "Typically with fins, it's three breaths and down they go. Nobody has ever had this happen. No way. It's impossible."
Curious vessel approaches involving fin whales are not unheard of, according toAmerican Cetacean Societyresearcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger. But the type of behavior Hartmann described might make a person think he was referring to much smaller and more gregarioushumpback whales.
There were between 6-10 fin whales, each measuring about 60 feet, and at times they'd accelerate as they neared the boat, then dive beneath its hull. At several points he was concerned for the safety of his passengers because a collision appeared imminent, and fin whales have been known to breach.
These particular whales remained beneath the surface, however, though they were very clearly visible. "The family I took out keeps calling me because they still can't believe what happened," Hartmann said. "It was so surreal to be out there by ourselves, with no wind and with all of this happening."