Wrightsville Beach resident Stephen Burnett spotted a whale Friday at about 6:30 p.m. while he was fishing on his dock, located on the 700th block of Waynick Boulevard.
He said he was leaning against the railing facing north on Banks Channel when he heard a loud puff of air. He turned around expecting to see a dolphin swimming by.
“I knew it was very close to the dock,” Burnett said. “I could see the back of the whale coming out of the water.”
The dark brownish-gray whale was about 10 feet long and 5 feet wide and was covered with about 40 white barnacles. Some of the barnacles were as large as sand dollars and 2 to 3 inches thick, he said.
The 56-year-old has been diving in Banks Channel dozens of times and has lived off and on the beach for 39 years. He said he has never seen a whale there before.
“I thought it was a manatee,” Burnett said. “I am the only one who saw it.”
He tried to yell out to his neighbor and two men fishing further down the dock, but the whale was only visible for about 5 seconds.
“The whale never surfaced again,” Burnett said.
Immediately after, he went inside Googled whether manatees had blowholes. Then, he looked at pictures of whale tails before coming to the conclusion that the large creature was in fact a whale.
“This was your traditional old-fashioned whale tail,” Burnett said. “It was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen … It was like you see in Alaska on one of those cruise ships.”
Earlier in the week, Burnett’s neighbor, Jeff Smith, caught a Florida spiny lobster on Labor Day in the same body of water.