Incredible Reflexes Save Diver From Massive Whale About to Eat Her

Written by Kirstin Harrington
Updated: August 30, 2023
© Craig Lambert Photography/
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Key Points:
  • Full-grown humpback whales can be up to 60 feet long and weigh a whopping 80,000 pounds.
  • Humpbacks engage in “lunge feeding” by soaring through schools of tiny fish with their mouths open, often breaching the water’s surface.
  • Whale watchers are advised to keep at least 300 feet away from known feeding regions.

In order to consume krill, which resembles shrimp, and other small fish, humpback whales strain vast quantities of ocean water via their baleen plates, which function as a sieve. On a sunny weekend in Santa Cruz, California, a humpback whale almost had a woman on a surfboard for lunch. 

Two large whales surfaced from the calm waters not far from the unaware surfer and two kayakers, and Barb Roettger had her video rolling. Barb uploaded the content to YouTube for us all to see. This video will leave your jaw on the floor! 

It starts with a surfer paddling toward the couple on the kayak. With a myriad of seagulls flying overhead, all seems normal. Within seconds, everything changes as a giant humpback whale emerges from the surface! 

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Humpback whales strain ocean water via their baleen plates, which function as a sieve, to consume krill.

©Imagine Earth Photography/

Is it Normal for Whales to Come Out of the Water Mouths Open?

Off the coast of Santa Cruz, a group of humpback whales has been spotted feeding on the anchovies that congregate there to consume plankton. A feeding frenzy known as lunge feeding, in which whales crowd anchovies and fly straight out of the ocean with their mouths open to catch the fish, was taking place when the woman found herself in the center of it.

When humpback whales lunge feed on schools of tiny fish they fly out of the water with their mouths open.

©This image was taken by a United States government employee during the course of their work and as such is in the public domain., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – License

Mind-Blowing Proportions

We all know that whales are massive creatures. A full-grown humpback can be up to 60 feet long and weigh a whopping 80,000 pounds. While you obviously wouldn’t want to be its lunch, you wouldn’t want to be nearby when it landed back onto the surface of the water. 

When this particular whale comes out of the water, it’s so large that it appears as if it did swallow everyone around. As it sinks back under the water, we can see a spooked surfer paddling away. 

The whales have been in perilous close encounters with people and boats quite a bit lately. The feeding region, which can be up to a quarter mile square, is where whale watchers are advised to keep a minimum of 300 feet distance. Roettger claims that she now has a higher regard for whales and their feeding habits and that she will only observe from the safer dry land.

Another video shows just how close the interaction was between the wild animal and the beachgoers. It looks as if others in the area could tell that a whale was feeding in the area. They were filming the seagulls going wild when the huge sea creature breached the surface. Either way, we’re glad we weren’t in the water at the time! 

Whale tail by boat
Whale watchers are advised to keep a minimum of 300 feet distance.

©Mircea Costina/

Where Do Humpback Whales Live?

All of the world’s waters are home to humpback whales. They have one of the world’s longest annual migrations and cover huge distances each year. From their tropical breeding grounds to their colder, more fruitful feeding habitats, some groups swim 5,000 miles. 

A Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) breaches out of the Atlantic Ocean. This endangered cetacean species migrates from the Northern Atlantic to the Caribbean each winter to breed or give birth.
Humpback whales can be found in all of Earth’s oceans.

©Ethan Daniels/

Do Whales Eat People?

Despite what some popular folklore might have you believe, whales do not eat people. Whales typically feed on small ocean-dwelling creatures. Their typical diet consists of fish, krill, and squid. However, when people wander into a whale’s feeding region, close encounters can happen — as this surfer discovered that the hard way!

What Do Humpback Whales Eat
Humpback whales eat small fish, invertebrates, mollusks, and plankton.

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About the Author

When she's not busy playing with her several guinea pigs or her cat Finlay Kirstin is writing articles to help other pet owners. She's also a REALTOR® in the Twin Cities and is passionate about social justice. There's nothing that beats a rainy day with a warm cup of tea and Frank Sinatra on vinyl for this millennial.

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