Peter Herlihy has lived next to Long Sands Beach in York all his life. He never had an up-close encounter with a whale until Tuesday.

As Herlihy, 27, and fellow surf instructor Chris Rockwood taught a surf camp on the beach late Tuesday morning, they saw a fin pop out of the water about 50 yards from shore.

“I grabbed a surfboard and paddled out to see what it was,” said Herlihy, who manages the Liquid Dreams Surf Shop in York. “It ended up being a very large whale.”

That whale – believed to be a minke 18 to 22 feet long – spent the rest of the day swimming in playful circles near the beach, brushing up against surfers and popping out of the water to the delight of the nine children attending surf camp. Rockwood, 16, rushed home to get his GoPro camera to capture video of the whale near shore.

“It’s not something you see every day,” said Rockwood, who lives in Florida and spends summers in York. “It was really eye-opening to see something like that. It gives you goosebumps.”

At one point, the whale flicked its tale near Rockwood, nearly knocking the camera out of his hands. The whale also brushed against Herlihy’s foot as he sat on his surfboard.

Herlihy said he was especially surprised to see the whale because usually they are sick or in distress when they come close to shore. This whale, which appeared young, was playful, he said.

“It basically swam in these big circles, but it was definitely not avoiding people,” he said. “The only way I can describe it is as very docile and very playful.”

Minke whales can grow to 35 feet long, weigh up to 20,000 pounds and live for 50 years. They are often active at the surface and are commonly seen breaching and spy hopping – raising their heads vertically out of water, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Rockwood said he has already told the story of his close encounter repeatedly, but his excitement pales compared to that of the young surfer who sat on Rockwood’s shoulders to get a better look at the whale.

“He’s still talking about it today,” he said.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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