Boaters aboard a whale watching safari off the coast of California got their money's worth when a gray whale got up close and personal.
The whale allowed the delighted adults and children on the boat to pet its skin and inside its mouth, something that could make whales just like their human admirers.
"According to the naturalists who see them every day, these gray whale calves enjoy having people touch them, even in their mouth and on their baleen," reads the description with the video of the encounter posted on YouTube this week. "Even though these whales don't have teeth, perhaps it is like a teething child who enjoys having his gums rubbed."
The close encounter with the wild mammal occurred during a whale watching safari off the coast of upper Magdalena Bay piloted by Capt. Dave's Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari, a Dana, Calif.-based whale watching company.
The company says the whales, which can grow to as long as 50 feet and weigh as much as 40 tons, approach their boats on their own seeking human contact.
"No one feeds them or does anything to entice them," the company stated on YouTube.
Capt. Dave's even keeps a count on its website of gray whale sightings on its daily boat trips, totaling as many as eight in one day.
The gray whale, which was removed from the endangered species list in 1994, is known as "one of the animal kingdom's great migrators" and travels in groups called pods, according to National Geographic.
The whales have to surface to breathe, making them easy to spot as they migrate along the West Coast from their summer home in Alaskan waters to their cold season refuge in the warmer waters off the coast of Mexico.
- Living Nature