It started as a typical ferry ride in Kashimek Bay. Then the minke whale went into the air.

Brian Herbst was vacationing in Alaska. He caught rockfish and halibut, saw moose and bears, stayed in a tent—and in a moment of perfect timing, he managed to snap a picture of a minke whale in the middle of it, hanging over the waters of Kachmak Bay.

The shot shows the parallel whale above the water as if it were competing in a belly-flips contest, surfing in the air or floating across the bay like a hovercraft.

On July 12, Herbst was on the Danny J ferry heading for lunch at the Saltry Restaurant on Halibut Cove when the captain announced that a whale was away. Using his daughter’s high school yearbook camera and a borrowed lens, he began taking pictures.

When the boat turned around, the whale started swimming towards it.

“I was like a front rower in this, and I was like, ‘I’m going to get this thing, chah chah chah,'” Herbst said, reenacting the moment during a video interview from his North Carolina home on Thursday morning.

He knew he got the perfect shot.

[A killer whale was headed toward a sea otter in Kachemak Bay. Then the otter hopped on a boat — and stayed there.]

After that, Herbst sent the photo to The Saltry, who posted the photo on her social media page. From there, the photo started going viral, garnering thousands of likes with a comment like “levitate” And the “The minke whale goes frome.”

Mark Webber, a marine mammal research scientist and trainer, said minke whale rags are rarely caught on camera. On the Kashmak Bay campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage.

He said it was “a great picture”.

In the photo, the whale’s sharp dorsal fin can be seen on top of its body as well as a white stripe on its fin — a hallmark of minke whales, according to Weber. While the whale is parallel to the water, it is actually tilting slightly away, and the light appears under the belly.

Weber said it’s not known why whales break, get out of the water and fly through the air. It might be a way of signaling to other whales by loudly re-entering the water, or “a state of extreme excitement or exuberance,” he said – but that’s just speculation.

Weber has even received reports of minke whales in which people have said they saw a large dolphin, without knowing it was a minke and unable to measure its size. Herbst initially thought the whale he saw was a dolphin, based on what he saw in North Carolina.

Minke whales are shy for the most part, disregard and avoid boats, so people don’t often catch sight of them.

[A creeping mass of insect larvae near a Denali lodge raises the question: ‘Am I hallucinating?’]

The minke whale is the smallest baleen whale in the waters of Alaska. Weighing up to 20,000 pounds and typically 25 to 30 feet in length as adults, they are much smaller than their giant counterparts, such as humpback and blue and gray whales.

Weber said they are fast. Minke whales eat by rushing into groups of small fish such as herring and anchovies, swallowing large quantities through the mouth. They then filter the water through baleens, a fingernail-like structure that hangs down in pieces and acts as a sieve, he said.

Back in Kashmak Bay, the minke whale hack was followed by a halibut taco lunch for Herbst and his family, who were in Alaska for his mother’s 85th birthday. They made it to Homer just as the weather was starting to turn stormy and cold.

“We hit it very perfectly,” he said. “I was made to speak.”

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