Newport Beach Tour Has An Exciting Encounter

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NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Two giant gray whales thrilled a tour group with their close-up antics off the coast of Southern California this week, dancing, rolling and even flicking their tails just feet from the small raft.

Experts call this behavior “aggression,” and it displays the kind of mild curiosity that has earned the species the nickname “friendly whales.” The length and closeness of the encounter, which took place off Newport Beach on Thursday evening, excited even veterans of the whale-watching society that organized the visit.

Jessica Roame, who runs educational programs for Newport Coastal Adventure, called it “the most epic gray whale encounters ever.” Roame emailed FOX 5 this week sharing videos and explaining what happened.

Clips recorded on cellphones show the massive creatures floating just below the surface alongside a small “fast raft” vessel holding around 15 people. Whale watchers gasp and giggle as the whales blow from their blowholes, hold their heads above water, and quietly fall asleep from side to side.

At one point, one of the whales raises its tail in the air, looking like it might land right in front of the raft. “Splash us,” someone on the boat says excitedly. But the tail moves away from the boat as it descends back into the water.

Roame said the tour group floated alongside the whales for more than 45 minutes. She pointed out that the raft’s engines were off and the guide kept his distance until the creatures approached them, drifting out to sea. It also helped that the ship was one of the only boats on water at the time.

“Boaters should always be respectful and move slowly when a whale is spotted and keep their distance,” she wrote. “Once in a while, if you’re respectful, with the engines turned off, these whales will approach boaters on their own, like these two did, to check on us.”

Roame said the gray whales, which can reach lengths of up to 49 feet and weigh up to 60,000 pounds, migrate north in March. The whales’ long journey stretches from their breeding waters in Mexico to Alaska, via the California coast.

“It is important to note that at this time of year boaters should exercise caution…and keep a watchful eye out for migrating Gray Whales as they move all the way up the coast at this time” , she wrote.

While whale-watching season offers plenty of opportunities to spot the creatures, Roame described a close encounter like Thursday’s as “very rare”.

You can find out more about whale watching tours on the Newport Coastal Adventure website.

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