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Watch divers narrowly escape being swallowed by two lunge-feeding humpback whales

When considering thrill diving, sharks are generally the species that comes to mind. But for two Central California divers, two lunge-feeding humpback whales offered the thrill of a lifetime when the mammals emerged only a few feet away from where the pair held onto a safety rope, Pete Thomas Outdoors reports.

The incredible encounter occurred at Souza Rock, about two miles off the coast of Morro Bay, during a SloDivers charter. The event was captured on camera.

One of two divers in the footage, Shawn Stamback, said that he and dive partner Francis Antigua were in the water with snorkeling gear and cameras passing the time before they could go down for their next scuba dive. At that time, the humpback whales could be seen feeding about a quarter-mile away from the pair.

According to Stamback, he and Antigua were floating around in the water, trying to get some shots of the whales from a distance, when suddenly all the sardines started swimming frantically.

Jay Hebrard and Jeremy Bonnett aboard the charter boat were able to capture the incredible encounter on video. About half-way in to the short, one minute video, you catch of glimpse of the frenzied sardines just before the whales lunge upward with their massive mouths wide open.

Weighing up to 40 tons, humpback whales feed on shrimp-like krill and schooling baitfish like sardines. Given their vast size, they must take in vast amounts of fish, expelling the excess seawater through their baleen plates.

As it stands, boaters are advised to stay at least 100 yards away from whales. It is against the law to harass or influence the behavior of any marine mammals, including whales.

After reviewing the video, mammal expert, Monica DeAngelis, of the National Marine Fisheries Service, said it was unclear based on the footage whether the divers were violating any laws, though it was clear the boat was closer than the 100 yard recommended guidelines. She added that the divers were very lucky no one got hurt.

According to Stamback, the whales knew he and Antigua were in the water, and missed them intentionally. Regardless of whether it was intentional or not, it’s fortunate the whales passed them by. With the thousands of sardines amassing beneath the pair, the two were right in the middle of a metaphorical meatball.

The whales appeared to be feeding using a process called bubblenet feeding, also known as lunge feeding. According to National Geographic, the whales swim in circles while releasing bubbles beneath a school of prey until the prey is enclosed in a tight ball. The whales then swim towards the surface with mouths agape, consuming thousands of fish in one gulp.