Monastery Beach in Carmel is known by divers for its beautiful beach above the waterline and well-known for its stunning underwater landscape, astride a subaquatic canyon that drops off thousands of feet into the Pacific. Along with being one of the most beautiful shore dives on the west coast, it can also be one of the most challenging – a site that can truly separate the men from the boys, and the women from the girls.

For one California diver, a recent dive at Monastery also meant having an amazing encounter: a pair of gray whales. It happened to Joe Platko on a May 15th shore dive.

“I went for a dive at North Monastery beach this afternoon, and after surfacing, one of the other divers told us that a few whales had passed by. As I was swimming back to shore, I noticed the whales had returned, and after waiting approximately 10 minutes, they did two passes by me. Luckily I had a Gopro on top of my macro setup, so I was still able to get some video of the whales under water. This was my first time ever seeing a whale while diving!”

Eye to eye: one of the two whales swims by Joe's camera. Image: screen capture of video, Joe Platko.

Eye to eye: one of the two whales swims by Joe’s camera. Credit: Joe Platko.

Amazingly, the encounter he filmed took place in about 15 feet of water. “The second shot was filmed right at the start of the kelp on the north side of Monastery, so they were very very close.”

The gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) is a baleen whale that migrates between feeding and breeding grounds yearly. It reaches a length of 49 feet, a weight of 36 tons, and lives between 55 and 70 years. Gray whales are found only in the Pacific Ocean, with a population of approximately 26,000, and they summer north of Alaska in the Bering and Chukchi Seas, and spend their winters in the waters of Baja California, Mexico.