IMPERIAL BEACH (CBS 8) —Described as a once in a lifetime opportunity, fisherman Zach Zorn said he never expected to get up close and personal with a pod of gray whales while out on a fishing excursion.
"They were rubbing their heads on the boat," Zorn said. "They were extremely playful and having a good time."
"We were getting wet from their spouts, that's how close we were," he added.
It happened Sunday morning 15 miles off of Imperial Beach.
Zach and a crew of four others launched the Sea Bandit in hopes of catching yellowtail and rockfish.
That's when they came across a pod of what appeared to be seven or eight adult grey whales.
"When we first started, we were getting awesome photos because they were at a distance and that was it," Zorn said. "Then they dropped down and came under the boat, so we were freaking out. It was like National Geographic in our own backyard."
After spending several minutes marveling at the majestic sight, Zorn said the captain, Frank D'anna, tried to maneuver away.
"We would go a couple hundred yards to a different rockfish spot and they would follow us extremely fast and hang out while we were fishing," Zorn said this went on for two hours.
"I and a lot of the other guys on the boat have never seen this happen before and some the gentlemen have been fishing for 30, 40 years," said Zorn.
While this type of encounter is rare - seeing whales from a distance right now isn't.
Every year, between December and April, more than 20,000 gray whales make a 10,000-mile round-trip journey from Alaska to the warmer waters of Baja California, where the females give birth to their calves before heading home.
"So we knew we might encounter some out there, but never to this extent," said Zorn.
He said the whales were so close you could study their barnacles - as shown in still pictures he took.
While he'll always have these images to relive this day, Zorn said with or without them, it's an experience he and the crew will never forget.
"That day we didn't catch the target fish we were going for – yellowtail - but at that point we didn't care anymore," Zorn said. "The whales made our day, they made the trip."
See below for more gray whale pictures by Zach Zorn.