Over the past few weeks, humpback whales have been spotted up and down the Central Coast — including ones feeding unusually close to the San Simeon shoreline and creating spectacular viewing from the pier.
But officials from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary are warning kayakers, boaters and others recreating in the water not to get too close.
The humpbacks weigh as much as 105,000 pounds, or 52 tons, and easily could kill someone as they rise up through the water to feed. Officials advise remaining at least 100 yards away. Watching them from the pier is recommended.
“If people consider the tonnage of a 50-ton whale coming up through the water like a freight train, they might reconsider getting close,” said Carolyn Skinder, the National Marine Sanctuary’s southern region coordinator.
The whales frequented the area around the San Simeon Pier to feed on anchovies, which also have been congregating closer to shore than normal for most of August. Getting too close can disturb the whales’ feeding habits, even if no collisions with boats occur.
This weekend, about 200 people from all over the world gathered near the pier to observe the whales, and up to eight at a time have been spotted in the area, Skinder said.
“I watched on the crowded San Simeon Pier for hours,” on Tuesday, said Cambria resident John FitzRandolph, “and it was as much a thrill to watch all the visitors being enthralled as it was to watch the whales feast on anchovies. It was amazing and wonderful.”
John Lindsey, a PG&E meteorologist, said that over the past few days, high northwesterly winds created upwelling that led to cold, nutrient-rich water moving toward the surface. That process stimulates the growth of phytoplankton and attracts fish, which attract whales.
“Upwelling brings nutrients and bait balls, and the humpbacks are sure to follow,” Lindsey said. “This past weekend, along the North Coast, there were more whales than I’ve ever seen out there.”