Whales almost swallow divers off Avila Beach in viral video

Two men were snorkeling when a school of fish emerged, followed by a pair of hungry leviathans

slinn@thetribunenews.comJuly 23, 2013 

Some local divers had a close encounter with two humpback whales off Avila Beach recently.

YOUTUBE.COM

VIDEO: Click here to watch the divers' close encounter »

Four divers have a whale of a tale to tell after coming face to face with two hungry humpbacks during a weekend diving excursion near Avila Beach.

“That was my once-in-a-lifetime whale encounter,” Shawn Stamback of San Luis Obispo said Tuesday.

Video footage of that encounter, titled “Whales almost eat Divers,” has garnered more than 1.5 million views on YouTube.com since being posted Saturday.

“Every single news agency I can think of has contacted me,” said Stamback, the red-and-black-clad diver in the video. “It’s almost gotten to the point where it’s getting annoying.”

Stamback and his friends — Francis Antigua of San Luis Obispo, Jay Hebrard of Atascadero and Jeremy Bonnett of San Diego — encountered the whales at around 11:30 a.m. Saturday near Souza Rock, two and a half miles off the coast of Avila Beach.

“The amount of sea life that’s stuck on that (rock) is just phenomenal,” said Stamback, who is documenting Central Coast dive spots for his website, SLODivers.com, with GoPro cameras. “That’s the main reason we go out there.”

After their first dive, Stamback and the others took a break for an hourlong “surface interval” to allow nitrogen gas to leave their bloodstreams.

Antigua and Stamback decided to go snorkeling while Bonnett and Hebrard remained on the boat filming them.

“Before I knew it, a big boil of bait fish started shooting up in my face,” Stamback recalled. “As soon as that happened, I knew exactly what was going on. I knew there was a predator chasing those fish.”

However, he added, “I had no idea there was a freaking freight train behind those fishies. That really blew my mind.”

As he watched, two humpback whales rose out of the water in unison, chomped mouthfuls of fish and sank back beneath the waves.

Antigua and Stamback hurriedly returned to their boat.

“Things could have gone south really easily,” said Stamback, noting that the whales could have capsized the boat or accidentally swallowed one of the divers. That’s why they packed up and left soon after the encounter.

“We pretty much figured that we used up all our luck for the day, so why push it?” he asked.

Fortunately, he and his friends captured video proof of the incident.

“We said, ‘Let’s put it on YouTube and see if it goes viral,’” Stamback recalled. “It was like rolling a snowball down the hill. By the time it reaches the bottom of the hill, it’s huge.”

However popular the video becomes, Stamback said he’s simply grateful for the experience.

“I’m just glad it happened to me,” the diver said. “I got to experience something on Earth that very few people have.”

Watch the video

A warning to viewers: the audio of the video contains several expletives.

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