Viral video

Feeding humpback whales mesmerize onlookers

Aug. 20, 2012 at 5:18 PM ET

Bill Bouton /
Boaters and kayakers waited with their cameras for a pod of humpbacks to breach the ocean's surface, an occasional sight around Port San Louis, according to amateur photographer Bill Bouton.

Bill Bouton, a retired high school biology teacher, was on an unsuccessful outing to photograph birds in San Luis Obispo, Calif., when he happened upon a breathtaking sight beneath the skyline: a pod of humpback whales feeding in shallow water.

The 69-year-old captured one of the enormous mammals breaching the surface while feeding on a “bait ball,” a dense mass of sardines that forms to ward off predators. But the defense mechanism just seemed to be attracting more hungry creatures, Bouton said, as hundreds of pelicans and seagulls were diving in the water and flying up again.

Bill Bouton /
Despite federal guidelines that warn observers to stay at least 100 yards away from whales or risk being fined $50,000, onlookers hovered around the feeding site.

Scores of brave onlookers gathered around the whale as well, some daring to venture only a few feet away from the lunging giant.

“There’s a woman in what looked like a black party dress standing calmly on her paddle board and taking a photo with the whale,” Bouton told TODAY.com. “It was priceless.”

Bouton spotted the rare scene on Saturday from his moving car and pulled over immediately. After rushing to set up his tripod, he took photos from the passenger’s seat for nearly an hour.

Bill Bouton /
Bouton said the humpbacks have been feeding for at least a couple of days in the shallow, sheltered waters, drawing crowds to the coast.

“I was really lucky,” he said.

In the 35 years that Bouton has been taking photos of animals, mostly birds, he’s never had a photo go this viral. He was surprised to find that in just 16 hours, the humpback pictures garnered over 200,000 views.

“It’s been absolutely crazy,” he said.

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