Sometimes in life, the biggest surprises come in the most unexpected places. Brad Rich can certainly relate to that sentiment, as he and his wife Jenna embarked on a fishing trip in Seward, Alaska, in the summer of 2015. While sailing into the open water though, waves suddenly erupted behind their small boat, leaving them stunned.
A resident of Alaska, Rich is a grandfather who announced his retirement from work in 2015. Now enjoying life as a fisherman, the former school janitor took his wife out on a boat that summer, looking to catch some salmon and halibut in Resurrection Bay.
Located near Seward, Alaska, Resurrection Bay is a popular tourist spot that boasts some stunning scenery and wildlife, with regular tours of the area being offered each day. The glaciers and cliffs that surround the bay are incredibly eye-catching, adding to the picturesque surroundings. However, that’s not all.
Resurrection Bay is home to a wide variety of marine wildlife, including the likes of sea otters, harbor seals and Steller sea lions. As well as that, keen-eyed visitors can also spy different birds in the area, ranging from puffins to kittiwakes. But despite all that though, there’s one mammal in particular that draws the most attention.
While out on their boat, Rich and his wife caught sight of something very interesting, prompting the former to pull out his camera phone. The fisherman captures a large flock of seagulls flying above the water, but they’re acting rather strangely. “Wow,” he exclaims, as the gulls continue to circle around the boat.
A few moments later though, a loud rumble can be heard behind the boat’s stern, with waves erupting from the depths of the water. “I hear them!” Rich says excitedly, before panning the camera back in hopes of capturing the incident. However, not even he could’ve predicted what happened next.
With the camera focused on the area behind the stern, a number of humpback whales suddenly rise to the surface in a circle, leaving Rich awestruck. “Holy s***!” he shouts in complete shock. “Oh my God, they’re right in front of us; oh my God, this is [great]!”
As the whales continue to dip up and down in the water, the seagulls then swoop in to the middle of their circle, hovering above the surface. With the camera still focused on them, Rich’s boat slowly motors away, with the fisherman unable to contain his excitement. “Oh my God, I just s*** myself!” he says. “Oh Lord!”
The footage then comes to an end, with the giant mammals returning to the depths of the bay. Before long, the short clip was uploaded to YouTube in July 2015, prompting a remarkable response from the online community. The video has since earned more than one million views, as well as more than 2,000 likes, with Rich’s endearing reaction drawing just as much attention as the whales.
“This video took my breath away,” wrote user Sophie the one in the YouTube comments section. “I watched it over ten times. What a unique experience. You’re so lucky your reaction is hysterically accurate.” Indeed, those feelings were reiterated by fellow user nummulite99, hailing Rich’s genuine response to the humpbacks.
“I don’t know what’s more awesome… the whales or the commentary!” nummulite99 wrote. “It’s wonderful to see the natural world giving someone an almost childlike excitement. I think this clip has inspired so many people to love and research these magnificent creatures. I love it so much… one day I hope to be in such proximity to one!”
Meanwhile, user Shraddha Singh praised those who watch over the whales, protecting them from harm. “We are so fortunate to have whale watching crews and ships to see these AMAZING animals!” she wrote. “They are innocent, fascinating, and completely awesome! I have been whale watching before, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything!”
Of all the marine wildlife to be found in Resurrection Bay, the whales are arguably the most striking, with killer whales also joining the humpbacks in the area. As it turns out, the latter travel to Alaska during the summer months to feed, eating about 3,000 pounds of fish each day.
However, on the day that Rich took his wife out on the boat, the humpbacks engaged in one of their more eye-catching activities, known as “bubble net feeding.” This technique sees a group of the whales swimming in a circle, each blowing bubbles as the circle shrinks in size. By doing this, the surrounding fish become trapped, with the bubbles acting like a impenetrable net.
As the humpbacks rise to the surface, so to does their food, which is then consumed. It’s a spectacular sight for those lucky enough to catch it, showing how the mammals work together in larger groups. That being so, Rich couldn’t quite believe what he stumbled upon.
“I was just in awe,” Rich recalled to KTVA Alaska in July 2015. “I knew that humpbacks do this group feeding. So I knew what was happening as soon as it happened. But to be in the middle of that, to actually experience that as to just watching it, it was the most awe-inspiring thing; it’s the most amazing thing to have ever happened to me.”
Some two years after his brush with the humpbacks, Rich reflected on the incident again in further detail. “It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said in the BBC documentary series Wild Alaska Live in July 2017. “I mean laughter was all I could express. You know, it was such an experience.”
“I mean, I did cuss you know!” Rich continued. “It was just pure joy. That laughter was just pure exhilaration.” From there, the fisherman then wanted to clarify something, reiterating that he and his wife weren’t out looking for the humpbacks in Resurrection Bay. “We did not know that they were there,” he insisted.
“You’re not supposed to be that close to whales – they came to us,” Rich said. “We did not go hunting or chasing after them – we were totally still; the boat was in neutral. They just popped up in front of us. I’m just honored to have been there, and to have recorded it to share with everyone.”
The biggest surprises can sometimes come in the most unexpected of places. That was certainly the case for Brad Rich in July 2015. Thanks to some incredible luck, he came face-to-face with one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights. As suggested by his infectious reaction, it’s something he won’t soon forget.