CLOSE ENCOUNTER: SF Man captures video of whale near Golden Gate Bridge

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It was an experience rower Phil Reiff won't soon forget-- an incredible close encounter with a huge whale near the Golden Gate Bridge.

The San Francisco man managed to capture the event on video, which shows an enormous tail splash out and then back into the water.

"It was crazy!" Reiff told KTVU. "It started coming toward me. I was like 'holy crap!'"

Reiff was in his rowboat Saturday morning, along with some 20 other boaters from the Dolphin Club to pilot the Fort Point to Aquatic Park swim.

The boats are there to protect the swimmers from other water vessels.

Reiff  told KTVU it happened during a tide change.

"The water at the Gate, it swirls around the food and nutrients, so the whales feed off that."

He said there were several whales in the area.

"I saw one come up toward me. I thought it was going to run up to the boat," the rower said.

That's when he pulled out his camera.

Asked if he feared for his safety, he said he was a bit nervous.

"It was more fear of the unknown," Reiff explained. "An enormous whale coming right at you. You don't know what's going to happen," he said.

He said after the swim that day, someone emailed a photo his friend and fellow club member Maria Lanigan took while they were out on the water.

Reiff said the image captured the sheer enormity of the animal and showed how close it was to his boat.

"That photo is amazing... I was blown away!" 

Lanigan herself said she was stunned when she got home to get a close look at the photos she took. 

"I was frankly surprised by how close it appears Phil is to the whale in that photo," she told KTVU. "...seeing those whales frolicking around in that gorgeous morning light with the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop has to be one of my all-time favorite San Francisco moments!" Lanigan said. 

Reiff noted it has been a banner year for whale sightings.

"Everyone who has spent any time on the bay this year has probably seen a whale," Reiff said. "It wasn't like this five or six years ago. It's really unusual," he added.