'Got that on video!': Father and son's close encounter with humpback whale as it skims their fishing boat
BELMAR, NEW JERSEY: A gigantic humpback whale broke the water within inches of a father and kid who were fishing for striped bass and tuna Wednesday, October 12, off the Jersey Shore near Belmar. Zach Piller, the son, who is 23 and from the Philadelphia region, recorded the event on camera. Before the humpback's head surfaced next to the two people's small boat, the water was humming with activity and dozens of tiny fish were leaping from the water. Piller wrote on social media, "Epic whale footage. Hitting the side of our boat!"
Just before the animal broke the surface and put its head above the boat's midships, Piller can be heard screaming, “Oh sh–! Oh sh–! oh sh–!” The whale's head splashed down, and it was quickly submerged in the water. “Got that on video!” Piller said after successfully capturing the event on his camera. The older Piller is seen smiling and tightly grasping his gear as an amused Zach turns the camera toward him. He was heard calmly saying, "Still got my fishing rod." Their boat could also be seen swaying back and forth during the wild encounter.
Piller was reportedly traveling in a father-built 18-foot Starcraft. According to Eric Otjen, vice president of zoological operations at SeaWorld San Diego, this time of year small fish are readily available and nearshore, attracting whales and other animals that consume them. The peak temperature on Wednesday, October 12 was above 70 degrees, and the sea was calm and clear. Meanwhile, the apparent feeding of humpback whales on little fish close to the shore is not unusual, but breaching close to a boat is, according to Otjen.
He told NBC News, “This whale just happened to chase bait fish right next to a boat. The feeding part is common. Being that close to the boat is not. You probably have a better chance of winning the lottery. It popped up where it popped up.” It's believed, according to Otjen, that the animal was engaging in bubble-net feeding, in which humpback whales dive beneath a group of fish, blow bubbles in a circle to serve as a fictitious net, and then go for the surface with their mouths wide to sweep up the fish. "The guys on the boat had an experience of a lifetime. A lot of people would pay a lot of money to see what they saw,” he remarked.
Humpback whales can weigh up to 40 tons, according to the NOAA. Since at least July, there have been an extremely high number of whale sightings along the Jersey Shore. Additionally, humpback whales have been extending their feeding seasons, perhaps to feast on Atlantic menhaden, a smaller fish that they prefer, according to researchers. Scientists are worried that fishing lines and boat traffic are posing major hazards to the endangered species, even though the nearshore activity may be a sign that they are recovering after being hunted for oil in the past.