It turns out that one of the people in that kayak from the crazy video of the breaching humpback whale in Monterey Bay last week is a British documentary filmmaker named Tom Mustill who was in California on holiday with his friend Charlotte Kinloch. He told the story of his and Kinloch's brush with death-by-whale to the UK Guardian, and by crazy coincidence, Mustill studies animals, and had recently made a documentary called Inside Nature’s Giants for the BBC that featured whales, among other species.
Mustill and his friend had been kayaking around the bay, keeping a safe distance from whales they could see in the distance, for "a couple of hours" when they turned back to head to shore. It was then that this whale took them by surprise and breached right beside them, coming to splash land essentially on top of them.
All of a sudden without warning, the water nearby to our right gave way to an adult whale shooting upwards, like a space shuttle taking off: a huge block of living thing impossibly held in the air. The only thing my brain registered was quite calmly that when it came down I was going to die. Then it fell, and I was underwater. I felt a yawing next to me and I was tossed around. I think this was the body or tail of the whale and I get a funny feeling in my guts when I think back on this.
I came to the surface. I saw Charlotte to my left and our kayak had a dent in the front. I was waiting for the pain to start, but it didn't.
Mustill circles back with the whale expert at Mount Sinai University in New York whom he spoke to in his documentary, Professor Joy Reidenberg, who surmises that the whale very may have seen the kayak as it was landing and turned so that it didn't hurt the people inside. "Perhaps turning like that allowed it to put a softer part of its body next to you to cause less damage (compared with a body slam using the bone of the skull that they might employ while fighting)," she tells him, adding, "I think you two survived because the whale cared about trying not to hit you."
Mustill also says that before the video, shot from a nearby tour boat, surfaced a couple days later, he and his friend didn't think anyone would believe their story. And after they'd flipped their kayak back over and paddled the half hour back into shore, their kayaking instructor informed them that such a thing had never happened in 30 years although perhaps such an incident was inevitable given the increased presence of whales in Monterey Bay year-round, due to plentiful food near shore in recent years.