A chartered whale watching boat had been prowling the waves a few miles off San Pedro for about an hour on Saturday when a humpback suddenly thrust its massive barnacled body into the air just off the bow.
The humpback, about 30 feet long, went on to expend an enormous amount of energy breaking the surface more 60 times within 45 minutes, thrilling sightseers who were yelling and screaming and taking pictures -- lots and lots of them.
Among those on board Harbor Cruise's charter craft Triumphant was Raul Roa, 50, a photographer at the Glendale News Press and active citizen scientist.
"This whale passed the audition," Roa said in an interview on Tuesday. "It was the kind of show you'd expect to see in Baja California or off the Hawaii islands or some other place far away at sea -- not a few miles beyond the Port of Los Angeles."
"Like many others, I took about 200 to 300 photographs with a telephoto lens," he recalled. "But at one point, I put the camera down to watch in silence and awe."
The 75 paying customers on board the Triumphant will never know exactly how many times the humpback breached the surface that afternoon.
That's because "the 3-hour excursion we paid for came to an end," Roa said. "So, we had to head back to port. Besides, photo-wise, I was in great shape."
On Feb. 20, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that it was considering a proposal to reclassify the humpback whale into 14 distinct population segments under the Endangered Species Act.
Over the last four decades, protection and restoration efforts have led to steady population growth for humpbacks. The proposal suggests that 10 of those 14 populations no longer warrant listing, including some humpbacks that winter off the coast of California.
Environmentalists, however, argue that humpbacks still need federal protection off California. They worry the species remains vulnerable to a wide range of threats: exposure to DDT, ship strikes, contaminants and trash from mainland population centers, and entanglements in crabbing gear.