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Divers nearly swallowed by whales off California coast (VIDEO)

Divers nearly swallowed by whales off California coast (VIDEO)
Two divers were nearly swallowed by humpback whales that were gulping down fish off the central California coast near Avila Beach.

The divers were wearing wetsuits and floating near their boat at Souza Rock when they experienced the close encounter. The men were surrounded by a shoal of krill, which the giant mammals frequently feed on.  As they were recording underwater footage, the two whales emerged from the ocean, swallowing whatever fish were in their paths.

“Holy shit!” one diver yelled as he quickly swam toward the boat. “Oh my God!”

A crew member joked that the petrified men are “going to have to do more to clean that wetsuit.”

Humpback whales can grow to the size of a school bus and weigh up to 50 tons, but are not typically aggressive toward humans. Ending up in one of their mouths, however, would be dangerous. There are no records of humpback whales swallowing humans, but there have been cases where sperm whales have chewed and injured people who got in their way. 

Even if the divers had ended up in the gaping mouths of the whales, it would have been unlikely for the mammals to swallow them. A humpback whale’s mouth measures up to 15 feet across, but its esophagus is only about 6 to 10 inches wide.

When a humpback whale feeds, it takes in a large mouthful of water and krill, closes its mouth, pushes the water out with its tongue and swallows its catch whole. An average-sized whale consumes about 4,500-5,500 pounds of plankton, krill and small schooling fish each day. Occasionally, the whale may swallow a small bird or two that are floating on the surface.

AFP Photo/Daniel Bayer

Although there are no records of humpback whales eating humans, there have been numerous close encounters in recent years. In 2011, a woman who was paddling on a surfboard off the coast of Santa Cruz nearly ended up in the jaws of a 45-foot humpback whale.

“The woman found herself in the middle of a feeding frenzy called lunge feeding, which occurs when whales herd anchovies and shoot straight up out of the water with their mouth wide open to catch the fish,” wrote YouTube user Barbara Roettger, who uploaded a video she took of the encounter.

After the 2011 incident, the US Coast Guard warned people to stay at least 100 yards away from the humpback whales or face a $2,500 fine for whale harassment. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Paul Michel told CBS that there had been 75 to 100 close encounters between humans and whales that season.

But when the whales unpredictably emerge next to a diving site, there isn’t much that witnesses can do besides swim hurriedly to the boat.