It’s rare to see a humpback whale so close to shore off the beaches of Rockaway, N.Y. It’s even more rare to have one of the 40-foot whales emerge from the water just feet from your boat.
But that’s what happened to Bobby Leonard when he was out on a recent fishing trip with his brother and dad.
“There’s no such thing as whale watching on the beach. It was unheard of,” Leonard told Yahoo News in a phone interview on Thursday. “It was just a great experience to be so close to something so big.”
Leonard, who runs The Spy Store in Manhattan, says he grabbed one of his company’s high-powered cameras when he noticed the whales swimming close to the shore.
“I told my brother, maybe we can get some footage of the whales,” Leonard said. “But we were just out there fishing. We never expected them to get so close.”
Leonard says there was a large school of fish near his boat that suddenly scattered.
“It was just chaos out there,” he said. “All of sudden the fish got nervous.”
Just moments later, the humpback whale popped up from the water only a few feet from Leonard, his brother Mike and his dad, Bob.
“I didn’t think we were in danger. I think they know what they are doing,” Leonard said. “They know where the boats are. I think they are smart enough to know that.”
The close encounter was one he says he’ll remember for the rest of his life.
And as it turns out, it’s not his family’s only brush with the local whale population.
“A couple of years ago, a live pilot whale washed up on the shore,” Leonard said. “My brother just lives three blocks down from me, and he raced out there when he heard, and saved the whale. He helped it get back out to sea.”
While whale sightings so close to the shore are rare, they’re not totally unprecedented. A marine environmental scientist told CBS New York that the whales were likely in the middle of their annual migration toward waters in the Caribbean.