Lingering pod makes for up-close whale watching at Half Moon Bay

- Visitors and locals in Half Moon Bay were getting an unusual chance to see whales up close on Thursday  as a pod of humpback whales lingered off the coast.

A group of the giant animals has been hanging around later in the year than normal taking full advantage of an abundance of food in the area.

Not that people ever need a reason to visit a California beach, but the sheer number of whales has them clamoring to get to this particular beach near Pillar Point.

"Our timing is right then. Just driving by and seeing that? Yeah, that's amazing," said Dennis Legault of Ontario, Canada.

A dozen or more humpback whales have delayed their trip south to warmer waters to feast on a bounty of fish.

"We see them migrate quite often but this is the first time I have ever seen this much activity, and day after day. Just along the coast," said Teresa Rourke of Half Moon Bay.

The show has lots of people stopping to gawk.

"This is why we live in Half Moon Bay. Because of the beauty," laughed Sandy Badillo.

We saw some whales from shore, along with porpoises and sea lions. But to get a closer look, we talked with the harbor master. Even the deputy harbor masters, who are there every day, were thrilled to see the whales up close.

But they took us out on the water to get a specific message across to the public. They want everyone to keep a safe distance from the whales.

"We'd expect that of our boaters and especially our kayakers, as we've seen people get close and get hurt because they weren't expecting it earlier in the year," said Deputy Harbor Master Cary Smith.

After leaving Pillar Point, it took time to find the whales, but we found them, and they were impressive. You could see them just casually swimming along, not a care in the world.

Periodically they would break the surface, mouths wide open, taking giant gulps of anchovies and small mackerel.

"I think it has definitely something to do with the warmer water temperatures, and the bait being here later in the year than normal," said Smith. "And I think this is kind of a global thing, it's happening in a lot of places."

As if to stress the safety message, the harbor master told KTVU after we left, three men in a boat were fishing when a whale came up underneath them. The sea mammal’s impact damaged and disabled their boat and threw one man overboard.

The men were unhurt, but their boat had to be towed back to port.

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