Thar She Blows!

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ScubaBoard Supporter
Staff member
ScubaBoard Supporter
Reaction score
New York City
# of dives
1000 - 2499
Unlike open circuit regulators, a rebreather lets you “talk” and be understood to some degree underwater. It takes practice, and I’m not very good at it. But hanging on the anchor line above the wreck of the Pinta, 15 feet below the surface, I could tell that my buddy Renata was VERY excited about something. I couldn’t quite make out what she was shouting, but I looked where she was pointing and saw a large white plastic bag drifting slowly by, a few feet below me. Huh.

Pretty soon, I realized that this was no plastic bag. It was a spot. A large white spot, about three feet across. Which was a pretty strange thing to be drifting by me on the line as we finished up our deco, relaxing in the warm water above the thermocline off the New Jersey shore. It took my brain another second or so to realize that this spot was on the back of a VERY large sea creature. And then I saw the fluke.

Thanks to cleaner waters, the whale population around New York City has made a tremendous recovery over the past few years. Gotham Whale is a non-profit research and advocacy group that runs whale watching cruises out of Rockaway, Queens. In 2010 they had five confirmed local sightings, in 2018 there were 272! And as I learned later from the president of this organization, I was about to make their first video confirmed underwater sighting in our area.

It is really hard to describe the excitement of that moment. As a lover of our local marine ecosystems and as an underwater photographer, it simply doesn’t get any better than this. This was no Sea World orca show, no touristy shark dive. This was real. I was just hanging out in the ocean and this fifty foot, thirty ton, fellow mammal just happened to cruise past me. I love our local waters, but 20 feet of visibility is a good day here, and so you have to be REALLY lucky to catch sight of anything this large underwater. Or she has to really want to check YOU out.

I grabbed my camera and switched it into video mode. By the time the whale had risen to enter our field of view, it was already halfway past us. I got a few seconds of the body and tail as she drifted past. And then I had a hard choice to make.

I was done with my decompression obligation, so I wasn’t particularly worried about getting bent if I swam off after the ultimate underwater photo subject. However, I realized that if I got far from the anchored boat, that was potentially trouble. Just a few weeks before, on this very dive boat and over this very same wreck, and experienced diver was swept away on the surface in a heavy fog when she lost the anchor line. Happily, she was picked up by the Coast Guard after drifting for several hours. So as tempting as it was to swim off after my new friend, I hung onto the line.

We waited a bit longer to see if she would circle back, but no luck. We were already the last team in the water before heading home, and we didn’t want to make everyone wait for us. When we boarded the dive boat, they told us that the whale had been circling them for a while at the surface, coming within 20 feet of them at times!

I’m still wishing that I could have gotten more video, or a few good photos of our visitor. I keep thinking of what I could have done - run a line from the anchor line using my reel? Surfaced and grabbed the trail line? Oh well. As disappointed as I am that I didn’t have more time with this magnificent creature, I’m incredibly grateful that she chose me and Renata to check out, on her way to whatever cetacean adventures await her. I hope I see her again some day.


Andy in Gap

Reaction score
Lancaster, PA
# of dives
200 - 499
I think I know what happened here...The whale wanted to check out Renata's pink shoes! Awesome capture, I think every diver would love to share the hang with a whale.

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