Most whale-watching expeditions end more in disappointment and gift store-bought postcards than once-in-a-lifetime memories and personal photographs.
A whale-watching tour last Friday off the shores of Southern California did not.
A giant blue whale got up-close-and-personal with tourists Friday as they sailed aboard a catamaran near Dana Point, Calif.
The boat, operated by Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale Safari, was stopped when, literally out of the blue, the 80-foot long blue whale approached head on, eliciting gasps and shrieks from the passengers onboard.
The whale got eye-to-eye with the tourists, coming so close that the whale's eye, just above its mouth line, can be clearly seen in the video.
"This whale headed straight for us and turned aside just seconds before contact," said Dave Anderson, the boat's quick-thinking captain who captured the whole encounter on tape.
Even a whale watching veteran like Capt. Dave, as Anderson is known, was left to just one word to describe the experience. "WOW," he wrote in commentary posted along with the video on YouTube.
One female passenger can be heard in the video describing the encounter as "a miracle."
Another passenger, Leslie Jeanne Morava , began filming from inside the boat's underwater viewing pod when the whale approached, giving an up close-up look of the giant mammal swimming just a few feet away.
The safari company operating the boat, and other experts, have called this year the best blue whale season to date in Southern California.
"We have had the most amazing three days of blue whales ever...it has been virtually impossible to NOT see a blue whale or fin whale in any direction," Capt. Dave and his colleagues said. "Most of them are feeding right at the surface...and we have had incredible close encounters to everyone's delight."
Kayaker Rick Coleman captured his own encounter with blue whales earlier this month, in the same Southern California location as the tourist group. Coleman, without the protection of a catamaran, got so close to the sea animals, which can measure 100 feet and weigh up to 150 tons, that he could literally reach out and touch one.