For the last week, humpback whales have been feeding on bait fish off Manomet Point in Plymouth, attracting crowds of curious spectators to the area to watch as the animals lunge from the water in search of food.
But one father and son had front row seats to a startling scene that unfolded roughly 30 yards from their boat Sunday morning.
While fishing around 10 a.m. just off White Horse Beach, Justin Enggasser, 46, and his son Leo, 15, watched as a whale breached the ocean’s surface and then landed directly on the bow of a 19-foot vessel, causing it to dip into the water.
“I think it took everybody by surprise,” Enggasser said. “I think everyone was shocked.”
Enggasser, who lives in Duxbury, said his son captured the rare event on video, which has since gone viral online.
A number of boaters were tracking a large school of menhaden — or pogies — in the area at the time, he said. The Enggassers had spotted a whale off in the distance coming up for air and moving around as fish popped up above the surface.
Then, suddenly, it was closer than expected.
“We saw the bait fish start jumping in front of the boat,” just a few seconds before the whale started breaching, he said. “My son had been sort of taking video of it while I was fishing. [He] just happened to be able to get it at the right time.”
Those aboard the boat that the humpback landed on were standing at the stern end. They were away from the animal when it hit and “sort of rolled off the bow,” he said.
“I’d say that was a much larger breach than the previous ones,” Enggasser said.
The entire bow was pulled underwater, causing the engine at the back to go “up in the air,” Enggasser said.
When the whale resurfaced seconds later to get air, it continued swimming “so it looked fine,” he said.
“That boat that was hit was stationary. He was not moving,” he said. “The whale, I think previously, breached fairly distant from that boat. I don’t think there was any way that guy could have known that whale was coming up right there.”
Enggasser yelled over to the boaters, and they said “they were fine” too. But the damage to a front railing was visible, as well as broken glass on the boat’s front hatch.
Enggasser, who fishes in that part of Plymouth often, said after watching his son’s video a few times, once they got back to shore, it was “a bit frightening to imagine that it could have easily been us that was struck.”
“If our [center console] boat was hit that way, I don’t think it would have bounced right back up quite the same way theirs did,” he said.
Crews with the Plymouth Harbormaster were stationed nearby Sunday to watch for any potential violations of the Marine Mammal Act, town officials said.
In recent days, both boaters and people on land have crowded Manomet Point to see the whales.
On Friday, the harbormaster urged boaters hoping to get a close-up of the whales’ recent feeding frenzy to be cautious of the animals, and not approach “closer than 100 yards.”
Prior to the whale moving near the White Horse Beach area Sunday, Enggasser said it was located further offshore, where officials from the Massachusetts Environmental Police had been warning people to keep their distance.
Following the incident, officials checked on the group that was on the boat hit by the whale. No injuries were reported, and the boat did not sustain any major damage.
Enggasser said the harbormaster arrived less than a minute after the whale breached to escort the group back to safety.
The harbormaster forwarded information about what happened to the Massachusetts Environmental Police to investigate. The incident, the department tweeted, serves as a reminder of “how whale and boater interactions can become dangerous!”
Enggasser said while he has seen whales come up for air before, he had never seen anything like the encounter Sunday.
“Even the way it breached was pretty dramatic compared to other activity that I’ve seen in the area,” he said.
It wasn’t the first time in recent days that a whale hit a boat in that area.
On Friday morning, Bob Babcock was paddleboarding across the glassy water off Manomet Point when he saw whales surfacing all over. Before he knew it, a whale bumped a boat in front of him, and shortly after, another dove and went just below his board.
“Thought for sure I was going to be knocked off but he didn’t touch me,” the 64-year-old Plymouth resident said in a Facebook message. “Amazing experience for sure.”