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My near miss with an Alaskan mama whale

This morning we had a whale of a story. Two boaters told us how they miraculously survived a whale slamming into their vessel and how awed they were by the experience. I know exactly how they feel — because I have a similar tale.
/ Source: TODAY

This morning we had a whale of a story.

Just take one look at the photo of that South African whale breaching a small sail boat off the coast of Cape Town and you'll know what I mean.

A couple of tons of a "juvenile" whale leaped out of the water and slammed onto the boat, which was appropriately named "Intrepid." It survived, but part of the boat was destroyed.

The skipper, Ralph Mothes, and his business partner and girlfriend, Paloma Werner, told us how they miraculously survived and how awed they were by the experience. And I have to say, I know exactly how I would feel if I was in their deck shoes — because I have a similar tale.

A couple of years ago, three of my friends and I went up to Alaska for some whale watching. We used kayaks because they let you get pretty close to the action and they don't frighten the whales.

During the obligatory safety discussion, the two guides gave us this warning: “Should you find yourself in the water, stay with the boat." And there was this handy advice, too: If a whale is heading in our direction, gently bang on the boat so it can hear we're nearby.

At the end of the sometimes terrifying presentation they said we needn't be concerned unless one of them shouted a few of those seven dirty words that you can't say on TV (unless they're extemporaneous — thank you 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals).

And off we went in our little red kayaks, wearing our water-repellent spray skirts, holding oars in our hand, gliding slowly through the water. We "ohhh'd" and "ahh'd" as the whales' tails and fins broke through the surface. We were mesmerized by the spray coming through their blowholes as the world’s largest mammals came up for air. We were in awe.

Then came the close encounter. A big ol' mama whale (as opposed to a real Alaskan mama grizzly, which we'd seen the week before — and no, not Sarah Palin) was heading straight for us.

"Oh %$#!!" said the gal guide.

"Oh *&^%!" said the guy guide.

With my voice breaking, I kindly asked "Is it OK to be scared?" as a fishing boat steamed farther and farther away.

"Raft up," said one guide to all four of the boats. "Spread apart," said the other guide.

I started furiously banging on the side of the boat until my knuckles ached. For the poor whale, it was probably akin to listening to heavy metal on steroids with 90-foot woofers. Still the whale headed for us.

Then, suddenly, it seemed to gracefully fold up its gigantic body and make a 90-degree turn, effortlessly, flipping on its side, showing one of the kayakers its massive eye, spewing stinky whale spit all over her boat.

Then we sat and waited to be flipped over. And waited ... and waited ... and waited. It seemed forever. And then suddenly, safely far in the distance — there she blowed. We all did the same — sighing in great relief.

So when I told our guests this morning about my own whale encounter and told them I was just a little jealous of theirs, Mothes said, "Oh, honey, you should be a lot jealous." And I am.