NBC News

Nightly News   |  November 09, 2011

Whales make a splash in California

Not far off the coast of Santa Cruz, Calif., a pair of 40-ton whales nearly swallowed a surfer last week. With these kinds of encounters happening more frequently, marine biologists worry someone is going to get hurt. NBC’s Miguel Almaguer reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: We've been reporting here for the past several weeks on the spectacular show going on very close to the Southern California coastline. A large number of very large whales have been on an extended kind of feeding frenzy, but it's become too popular a show and it's proven hazardous now for both the whales and the folks anxious to go there and get a closer look. Our report from NBC 's Miguel Almaguer .

MIGUEL ALMAGUER reporting: It's the Internet sensation that's making quite a splash...

Unidentified Woman: We were all in shock.

ALMAGUER: ...from a surfer nearly swallowed by a pair of feeding humpback whales to a kayaker face to face with two 40-ton giants. Just off the coast of Santa Cruz , a new meaning to close encounters .

Mr. ALAN BRADY (Kayaker): I was real close to them. You know, it's like one time I had to duck so the tail didn't hit me.

ALMAGUER: Popping up across California 's coast in record numbers, whales rarely seen so close to land.

Ms. MONICA DeANGELIS (Marine Biologist): The whale population numbers are increasing, but I think it's actually more about the fact that they're following food and the food happens to be closer to shore.

Offscreen Voice #1: Watch for that tail. Ah.

ALMAGUER: In Long Beach , the blue whale , the world's largest creature, is on the hunt for one of the ocean's smallest, shrimplike krill.

Offscreen Voice #2: I'm right next to it.

ALMAGUER: Problem is, the whales aren't alone. Sightseers are on their tail.

Ms. KERA MATHES (Aquarium of the Pacific Whale Biologist): Being that close to an 80,000-pound whale when they're coming up and looking for food, and when these surfers and kayakers are so close, it definitely poses a danger for them.

Offscreen Voice #3: We have a visual.

ALMAGUER: Now the Coast Guard is cracking down...

Unidentified Man: Make sure you guys know you got to stay 100 yards from the whales , yeah?

ALMAGUER: ...handing out $2500 fines to anyone who gets too close to the endangered blue, fin or humpback whales . There's even talk of narrowing shipping lanes and moving them north to protect the gentle giants.

Captain ROGER LAFERRIERE (United States Coast Guard): One of the challenges was trying to develop where their habitats are. And by moving the shipping lanes, I think we're decreasing the risk significantly.

ALMAGUER: There are safe ways to see the whales , and tour boats like this one are having a record year.

Offscreen Voice #4: He's right next to us!

ALMAGUER: But the show may soon come to an end. The whales are migrating for the winter, but only after a season...

ALMAGUER: ...full of surprises. Miguel Almaguer, NBC News, Long Beach, California .