When he set out in his kayak, David Rogers’ intention was to photograph some fish and capture the sea’s beauty. Now, as the titan breached next to his canoe, he forgot all that. The only thing Rogers could do was hold on for dear life as the ocean shook with the giant’s might.
The day in question was June 16, 2018, when Rogers had an encounter he’ll never forget. But although he was fortunate enough to experience such an incredible event, it wasn’t the reason for his outing. Instead, he was after a completely different kettle of fish.
In fact, fish were exactly why civil engineer Rogers headed out into the ocean. The kayaker is a keen outdoorsman and photographer, and his goal that day was to do a little bit of both. To be more precise, Rogers wanted to capture aquatic life on camera.
With that in mind, Rogers left his house for his intended destination: Moss Landing, California. Located on Monterey’s coast, the area’s close proximity to the sea means it has several features that marine enthusiasts are likely to find significant.
Moss Landing is physically connected to the Monterey Submarine Canyon, which is similar in dimensions to the Grand Canyon. It’s an important site for neighboring marine research institutions such as Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.
But it isn’t just researchers who find Moss Landing’s ocean connections convenient; it also has a bustling maritime industry. The region’s harbors dock in excess of 600 boats, more than half of which are commercial fishing vessels. So it’s no wonder that Rogers chose the coast for his photography trip.
Rogers was chasing shoals of fish half a mile from the coast when he encountered another beast entirely. “It all happened so quick, there wasn’t much time to think,” Rogers told LADbible after the event. And thankfully, he recorded what happened on video.
The footage, which Caters Clips featured on its YouTube channel in July 2018, begins with a bang. Or, more accurately, a loud splash. The camera instantly turns to reveal a huge shape breaching the ocean’s surface. And the force sends fish flying from the water.
The sea creature is actually a humpback whale, an aquatic mammal of the baleen species. Although they often grow to be more than 50 feet long, seafarers have recorded even larger examples. Among them are a 62-foot-long behemoth and, if old maritime records are accurate, an 89-foot giant.
Humpbacks are also known for their breaching behavior, where they lift a portion of their bodies from the ocean. And that’s exactly what Rogers witnesses in the video, except he’s close enough to be caught in the subsequent shockwave. What happens next is amazing.
As the whale sinks back into the sea, Rogers’ camera shakes like he’s at an earthquake’s epicenter. Furthermore, when the humpback submerges, its massive pectoral fin is inches away from the kayaker. It’s close enough for him to reach out and touch, in fact.
At one point, the camera’s almost vertical with the force of humpback’s disturbance. But judging by the kayaker’s whoop, Rogers seems more exhilarated than fazed. “I knew the whales were not out to attack or hurt me,” he later explained.
The main thing on Rogers’ mind was stopping his vessel from overturning. “I remained calm and tried to keep my balance as one whale pushed my kayak to almost the tipping point.” Rogers recalled. “I remember thinking to hold onto my paddle, as I didn’t want to lose it.”
Moreover, Rogers later revealed that he hadn’t been alone on the waves. “There were lots of oohs and ahhs from the whale-watchers on the nearby boats,” he explained. That group included Cindi Roddan and Kelley Larson, who work as part-time photographers.
Roddan later described what may well have been the opportunity of a lifetime for a keen photographer. “We’d found ourselves standing above a massive bait ball,” she told the Daily Mail. “And any way we looked, there were whales.”
Then Roddan witnessed the humpback’s breach, right next to Rogers. “Suddenly, we heard the simultaneous gasps of the other people on the boat,” Roddan recalled. And what happened next stunned the tour. “[We] witnessed a large humpback lunge feeding within arms-length of a kayaker,” she explained.
The humpback was seemingly after the very fish that Rogers filmed. “We saw anchovies flying into the air,” Roddam said, “and the kayaker disappearing behind the whale.” As the humpback moved, the onlookers saw Rogers being caught in the resulting wave, and his situation looked precarious.
Roddam said the kayaker reappeared “with his feet in the air on the whale’s side.” Fortunately, though, Rogers wasn’t in as much trouble as it seemed. “When the humpback re-submerged, we breathed a sigh of relief to see that the kayaker was okay,” Roddam concluded.
But why do humpback whales – or, indeed, some other whales and dolphins – breach? In the case of the whale Rogers encountered, it seemed to be hunting. However, the truth is that not even marine biologists can agree on why the animals behave in this way.
Some theories suggest whales breach as a form of communication or to stun prey with the resulting shockwaves. Others hypothesize that breaching is a form of lunging for oxygen or perhaps just a playful gesture. Whatever the reason, the incident certainly gave Rogers quite a story. Indeed, he described his adventure as “an incredible, scary and exciting experience.”