Gray whale smackdown

Photo credit: Larry Fukuhara

Have you ever gotten so frustrated or annoyed that you just wanted to smack someone? You are not alone. And it turns out we as humans are not alone.

I recently had to go through boxes of old newspaper clippings (long story) and came across this headline in the pile: “2nd surfer nailed by whale tail.” What?!

Very intrigued…I continued reading: “For the second time in less than two weeks, a surfer has been swatted by a migrating gray whale, county lifeguards reported on Sunday.”

Wow, I had no idea gray whales have slapped people!

The article ran in the Long Beach Press-Telegram on May 4, 1981. (The online archives only go back as far as 1990, so I couldn’t add a direct link to the article.) It turns out that a surfer, identified as Mike Divine, 18, of Reseda, was surfing with several friends off Zuma Beach when a group of migrating gray whales swam close to shore.

Here’s what happened according to the article: “Divine accidentally got between the female whale and her calf while they were about 25 yards off-shore. The 30-to-40-foot whale responded to Divine’s presence with a flick of her tail and hurled him and his surfboard nearly eight feet into the air.” Thankfully, Divine was okay and did not require medical treatment.

The article concludes with a summary of what happened to the first whale tail victim. “On April 21, 15-year-old Ian Baird was hit by a gray whale while body-surfing off Laguna Beach. Baird reportedly swam out to get a close look at a migrating whale when it struck him with its tail. Baird suffered bruised ribs in the incident.”

Dang! Watch out for those migrating gray whales and keep your distance. Two reasons: 1) It’s the law to keep a distance of 100 yards. 2) The gray whale might smack you.

It sounds like Divine had no idea he was surrounded by gray whales and just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, Baird may have been a little too curious and ended up getting a bit too close.

The moral of this story: If you get up in a whale’s business, you could pay the price.

What I keep wondering: What if a blue whale hauled off and smacked an annoying fleshy human with its tail? Hopefully, that question will remain unanswered…


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