June 17th, 2016. NEWPORT BEACH – An estimated 20-foot whale caught in churning waves at the Wedge about noon Friday gave at least one beach-goer the thrill of a lifetime.
Holly Griffith, an avid ocean and marine mammal enthusiast, had just plunked down on the sand to watch bodyboarders take on massive waves at the popular Newport Beach surf spot, when she and others saw something gray and ‘blobby’ in the water.
“We looked out there and saw what we think was a baby gray whale,” Griffith said. “All of a sudden everyone looked away from the bodyboarders and watch it. The waves just kept pushing him up toward the sand. I was like, ‘How are we going to get it back?’”
The waves pushed the whale onto the sand where it struggled for a short time.
Griffith said Newport Beach Lifeguards told bodyboarders to try to scare it back into the water.
“They were in there just jumping and yelling and raising their hands,” she said. “We watched it swim out. It seemed a little bit stunned. And the lifeguard boat stayed out there and watched him a little.”
For Griffith of Norco, the experience is one she won’t soon forget.
By the time Newport Beach Marine Safely Battalion Chief Brent Jacobsen was in route responding to the whale, it had already made its way back into the ocean.
“It was a five-minute event,” he said. “Luckily, it resolved itself.
Jacobsen, who had worked for the Newport lifeguards for decades, can’t remember this happening before.
He said had the whale stayed on the shoreline, lifeguards would have pulled a boat close to the shore, tied a rope around a its tail, and tried to take it back out into the ocean.
“The surf would have made it a challenge, it would have been very risky.”
He said the public should stay clear if they come across a beached whale.
“Even a small whale can weigh thousands of pounds,” he said.
Ryan Lawler, owner of Newport Coastal Adventure, said the juvenile gray whale was about a month late in the migration.
Lawler said the big waves — about 10 feet high — could have contributed to the whale washing up on shore.
“It’s typical for gray whales to come close to shore, it sounds like this one got caught up in the strong surf,” he said.
But Lawler said he’s never seen a whale wash ashore in local waters.