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Humpback Whales Come Dangerously Close To People At Santa Cruz Shore

SANTA CRUZ (CBS SF) – As many as 11 humpback whales have been feeding unusually close to the Santa Cruz shoreline, and there's concern that interested boaters, kayakers and surfers are getting too close.

Wednesday marks a second day of increased enforcement near the boardwalk to protect the whales - each measuring about the length of a school bus - and the people in the water.  The U.S. Coast Guard has warned people to stay at least 100 yards away from the encroaching whales or face fines for whale harassment of at least $2,500.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Paul Michel said that the humpbacks are close to shore because that's where the krill and other small fish like anchovies are this time of year, but their close proximity combined with some very nice weather are drawing lots of waterborne spectator activity too.

KCBS' Anna Duckworth Reports:

"We've seen anywhere from 75 to 100 people out there on the water close to these whales," said Michel.

The Marine Sanctuary said no one has been hurt so far, but a sailboat was damaged this week when it struck a whale. Michel said that some kayaks have been overturned by the breaching whales. They've even caught some people trying to touch the humpbacks.

"Remember, these whales have to eat a lot of food to stay warm and healthy, and if we interrupt their feeding behavior then we damage those whales and keep them from being healthy animals," said Michel.

Michel said that harbor patrol and fish and game officers will be keeping people away from the whales until they move on.

One woman got a major scare while filming the humpbacks, and posted the incredible video to YouTube. The video shows a female surfer floating on her board when two whales pop out of the water, mouths wide open, as they feed on a school of anchovies. The surfer nearly wound up being on the menu, but fortunately was just far enough away to avoid being touched by the whales.

Surfer Almost Swallowed by Whale by BQN Barb on YouTube

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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