The moment a humpback whale breached the water to grab some fish was something a Massachusetts man says he won’t forget any time soon.
Doug Shatford caught the incredible moment on camera on Wednesday while he was out hoping to spot one of the mammals.
He had headed out on the water on his boat, named for his wife Shelly, after hearing talk in the community of Gloucester that there was a whale sighting, according to the Boston Herald.
After he was about a mile out from the coast, he could see a couple of whales “dancing” before they disappeared.
Then, 10 minutes later, Shatford got a sight he never expected.
In a video posted to Shatford’s daughter’s Facebook page, a whale is seen leaping out with its mouth wide open to catch some of the fish before flopping back in the water.
“Wow, that was crazy. I didn’t mean to get that close to this friggin’ huge thing,” he says. “Wow.”
Just before the whale surfaced, Shatford told the Boston Globe that a “ball of fish” started to head his way, prompting him to put the boat in reverse when the whale appeared.
“It was the most amazing thing I’ve seen besides my three kids being born,” he told the Herald.
“I was close to flipping my boat, but it was so peaceful.”
New England Aquarium spokesperson Tony LaCasse told the Herald that the fish in the video were menhaden, also know as pogies, while the enormous bumps on the whale’s head and white underside of its flippers helped identify it as a humpback.
LaCasse said the humpback was lunge feeding, which means it was lying low and perpendicular to the surface before thrusting itself through the school of fish.
The whale later disappeared back under the water, with its tail briefly flapping as if to wave goodbye.
For Shatford, the surprise appearance by the whale meant something more for the widower — his wife recently died of pancreatic cancer.
“In that moment, I felt my wife’s presence,” he told the Herald. “The hardest part after she died was raising my kids and trying to absorb their pain, trying to keep her alive so they didn’t just bury it.
“Maybe it was a sign that she was there with me, and everything was going to be OK.”