"It turned around and came to us. It hung out and swam circles around us for about 10 minutes. We were losing our minds."
SEACREST BEACH — After 20 years of living near the beach, Jake Williams has seen all kinds of marine life.
But at exactly 10:09 a.m. Thursday, Williams and his co-worker, Jake Ritch, spotted a humpback whale. It was a first for him.
The two Jakes were working for a beach service at Seacrest Beach when Williams spotted something "really big" out in the water.
"I was like, 'Dude, that's a whale,' " Williams said.
The two grabbed a kayak and paddleboard and went about a half mile out. They got within 200 to 300 yards from the whale before it suddenly popped out of the water, Williams recalled.
"It was just phenomenal," he said. "It turned around and came to us. It hung out and swam circles around us for about 10 minutes. We were losing our minds.
"It made 13 years of beach service totally worth it," Williams added.
A humpback whale was seen 12 to 15 miles off Panama City Beach last month. According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Bekah Nelson, juvenile humpback whales will head to Florida and stay near shore.
Humpback whales — whose scientific name Megaptera novaeangliae means “big-winged New Englander” — spend the summer months building up stores of fat in rich feeding grounds such as the Gulf of Maine and Gulf of Mexico before they head to tropical or subtropical waters in the winter to breed. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, they make the longest migration of any mammal.
Williams estimated that the "ginormous" humpback he spotted was about 35 feet long. He was fortunate enough to remember to shoot video.
But it's not likely he would have forgotten it.
"It was the best experience of my life," he said. "There's a lot of water out there. ... You never know what to expect."