In drone footage captured by an 18-year-old high school student, the shadow of a huge whale can be seen swimming towards the group.
Moments into the video, the marine animal surfaces multiple times, flicking its tail and weaving through the surf crew, who are mostly still.
“It was completely surreal and so insane,” drone operator Payton Landaas told NBC News.
At first, the surfers don’t seem to notice the animal’s presence.
One surfer is seen swimming away, narrowly avoiding being hit by the whale’s tail, after the whale surfaced and splashed water around with its blowhole.
Landaas says he often captures ocean imagery with his drone, and sees everything from dolphins and sharks to sailboats passing by. He shared the footage on his Instagram account, where he posts many wildlife videos, captioning it: “Apparently doho is deep enough.” (Doho is a nickname for Doheny State Beach.)
The student was near his home checking the waves when the whale’s spout in the distant water caught his eye. He then ran to get his drone to begin filming.
“I ran and got my drone and flew it out there,” he said. “Then it ventured out to Doheny … It was just cruising. I lost it a couple times it dove down pretty deep.”
Landaas first shared the video to Capo Cares, a Facebook group for residents of Capistrano Beach, where it’s understandably received quite a lot of attention.
The operator of the social media page has made sure to keep fans of the video updated, calling the incident “whale watching in reverse.”
“We were just contacted by Steve Burton, manager of whale strandings out of Florida Atlantic University,” the comment reads. “He was interested in the exact time of video (12:22 p.m.) to confirm the young grey whale was cruising through at high tide.”
“Sounds like our leviathan visitor was not in trouble but he said a marine veterinary specialist would decide for sure. Hoping he was just curious!”
Some in the comments section speculate that this must’ve been a juvenile grey whale, but no expert confirmation has been provided.
The World Wildlife Foundation says intensive whaling has drastically reduced grey whale numbers over the last three to four centuries.
Of the three original grey whale populations, one in the North Atlantic is extinct, one is critically endangered in the western North Pacific and one has recovered from low levels in the eastern North Pacific.
The typical grey whale weighs 60,000 to 80,000 pounds and ranges from 12 to 15 metres in length.
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