OCEAN CITY — Passengers on a tour of Ocean City’s coast got a rare surprise this weekend when an energetic humpback whale approached a Paradise Watersports’ boat Saturday.< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office">
Though spotting sea life like dolphins, turtles and manta rays can be an almost daily guarantee when taking an ocean tour, encountering a humpback whale up close is decidedly less common, according to Paradise owner Tyler Barnes.
“We usually see a whale or two once during the summer season,” he said. “But usually off on the horizon. And we’re not usually able to identify what type of whale it is.”
There was no mistaking the identity of the whale that broke the water’s surface multiple times Saturday. It was clearly a humpback, a larger species than is usually encountered so close to shore near Ocean City. It was just luck, said Barnes, that one of his boats was so close to the whale when it decided to get some air.
“Two of my boats were out less than a mile from shore between 15th Street and 30th Street and they had their parachutes up and all of a sudden the whale was just breaching all around them,” he said. “It was just really cool. They were in the right place at the right time.”
The proximity allowed for some incredible close-up shots of the friendly mammal. Despite the large animal closing to within only 50 feet or so of a packed boat, no one seemed nervous, said Barnes, including the whale.
“It didn’t appear to be in distress. It was super playful,” he said. “We’ve heard that when they come in that close to shore around here that sometimes they’re on their last leg but this one in particular looked like it was just super playful, having fun.”
The only regret customers expressed to Paradise Watersports after the event, Barnes added, was that no one in the parasail had been able to snap any pictures.
“The customers just wished they had a camera up in the air,” he said. “That would have been unreal to get some aerial shots.”
The pictures that the boat was able to take of the whale have proven popular even without any aerials. The story has attracted traffic to their website, paradise-watersports.com, noted Barnes, and especially their Facebook page, where a collection of the whale pictures have accumulated over 400 likes and 160-plus shares. But that pales when compared to the over 3,600 likes and more than 1,300 shares that the pictures received after they were featured on the National Aquarium’s Facebook page Saturday.
Wintering in Hawaii during the offseason, Barnes is no stranger to encountering humpbacks in the wild. But finding one so close to the Ocean City beach and with so much energy is something that he said his crew and customers will never forget.