Joe Fabiano has had a boat for most of his life, often taking it out to Boston Harbor to cast a line and catch flounder and stripers.
But a routine fishing trip Monday led to a sight he’d never seen before: a humpback whale breaching the water just beyond the city’s skyline.
“That was kind of crazy, but kind of fun to see,” said Fabiano, 56.
The Winthrop resident captured the somewhat rare scene on video, as the whale splashed around in front of him for roughly six minutes. The clips, which he shared to Facebook, show the whale rising up out of the water as other boaters were fishing in the distance.
Fabiano said he was out on the water with Paula Brogna, 55, after launching his boat from Winthrop around 5:15 a.m. The couple was waiting for the sun to come up, a time “when the fish get really active,” he said.
Not long into their fishing trip, Fabiano and Brogna heard something that sounded like “a big flipper hitting the water.” But when they looked around there was nothing there — and no boats were close by.
“But you could see the water was white from the splash, so we were like, ‘What was that?,’” said Fabiano. “Next thing you know, she goes, ‘Oh, my god. That’s a whale.’”
Fabiano, who had only ever seen seals or dolphins out on the water before, grabbed his phone and started recording.
“That’s when, the first time, he jumped out of the water. I was like, ‘Oh, my god.’ That’s something that you don’t see,” he said.
Fabiano said the humpback rose out of the ocean a second time, and later “it came in even closer to us.”
The couple, who were fishing between Deer Island and Long Island, said the whale eventually left the area and headed out toward deeper waters.
“There had to be at least 50 to 60 boats out there fishing. I don’t even think anyone saw this thing coming out of the water,” Fabiano said. “Everyone was just so concentrated on fishing.”
It’s not the first time that humpback whales have been spotted in Boston Harbor.
In 2016, the captain of a commuter boat traveling from Boston to Hingham saw a whale swimming just a quarter-mile off the tip of Castle Island. Two years later, several whales were captured on video while feeding in the area.
Laura Howes, head naturalist for the New England Aquarium Whale Watch, in partnership with Boston Harbor City Cruises, said in a statement that these types of sightings occasionally happen in the harbor.
When they do, it’s typically a juvenile humpback whale “learning the ropes to be independent and how to find food on their own.”
“It is not a regular occurrence to see whales so close to shore,” Howes said. “We do see a humpback whale close to land once or twice a year.”
Humpback whales have been in the spotlight lately due to their high visibility south of Boston Harbor.
In Plymouth in recent weeks, boaters and people on land have crowded the area to catch a glimpse of several whales feeding off the coast of Manomet Point.
In one instance last month, a young 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.
The commotion over the humpbacks led scientists and law enforcement officials to hold a press conference last week, where they urged boat operators to give the whales plenty of space.
Fabiano said the couple recently watched the video of the whale landing on the boat in Plymouth, an incident that alarmed Brogna.
“She was like, ‘I would have had a heart attack.’ Then the next week, this happens,” he said.
Still, Fabiano likened the experienced to being on their own personal whale watch.
“It was kind of amazing,” he said.