Surfers warned after approaching large whale

Surfers warned after approaching large whale near Sydney; image is a video screen grab

Surfers near Sydney, Australia, could not resist the urge to approach a large whale that was spotted close to shore on Sunday, and as a result they were warned by authorities to stop harassing the mammal.

The initial sighting was just beyond Freshwater Beach, a Sydney suburb. Soon, the massive leviathan was nearly surrounded by surfers and paddlers, some of whom were nearly within touching range.

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Ian Hansen, a local resident, told the Sydney Morning Herald: “To be honest, they were harassing it a bit. They were so close and it had no room to move.” (The video footage shows one paddler trying to get out of the way when the whale turns toward him.)

Whales are protected in Australia. Swimmers (and surfers) are required to remain at least 30 meters away, while boaters must stay 100 yards away.

Whales also can be dangerous, especially if they feel trapped. Last year off Bondi Beach, a surfer was injured during an encounter with a southern right whale.

Surfers surround southern right whale; photo courtesy of Ian Hansen

“I was pretty worried to see one guy out there with a kid on his board,” Hansen said. “It’s a big animal; one tail flick and we could have had a death on our hands.

Lifeguards eventually ordered the surfers to leave the whale alone as it made its way along the coast.

A spokesman for the Department of Environment and Heritage said the whale was probably a young male or near-term pregnant female looking for a calm place in which to give birth.

Southern right whales occur throughout the southern hemisphere, and are often seen close to shore during their migration.

They can measure to about 50 feet and weigh up to 60 tons.

They feed predominately on plankton, and are considered harmless to humans—unless, of course, humans get too close for their own good.

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