Passengers aboard an Orange County whale-watching tour had a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with two humpback whales last week as they appeared to be “playing” around their boat.

On Sunday, the majestic creatures spent nearly three hours cheerfully entertaining a Newport Coastal Adventure vessel, swimming up and around the small Zodiac while putting on an incredible display.

According to Captain Delaney Trowbridge, the humpbacks were seen doing pectoral fin slaps, which is a movement when a whale raises its fin into the air before slamming it back into the water, and tail throwing – a similar movement that is done with the tail.

They were also seen rolling around in the water and peeking their heads above the surface in a movement called “spy hopping.”

Playing Whales
Tail of a humpback whale seen on a Newport Beach whale watching tour on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. (Courtesy of Newport Coastal Adventure)

Humpback whales are one of the most charismatic species of whale in the ocean, Trowbridge explained. They are particularly known for their curiosity, approaching boats like those for whale watching tours in a type of behavior called mugging.

From summer to winter, Southern California is one of the best places for these remarkable encounters, given the abundance of anchovy in the region’s waters.

However, Newport Coastal Adventure says that this year has been one of the best for humpback whale sightings with several “muggings” that have occurred already between the months of September and early November.

Two weeks before Sunday’s humpback whale sighting, passengers on a tour from Dana Point were able to witness a similar display from two whales as they swam around the boat — at one point almost waving at those on board.

The peak season to catch a glimpse of one of the humpbacks — and other extraordinary mammals like dolphins, as well as fin and minke whales — will last through Winter.