These jaw-dropping images show the moment a humpback whale leapt majestically from the ocean, ‘waving’ to a tourist boat before crashing back down with an almighty splash.
The photos, taken off the coast of South Africa by marine tour guide Steven Benjamin, captured a sight rarely seen at such close proximity.
The 40 ton humpback put on an incredible aerial display, soaring through the air just yards from a boat as shocked onlookers screamed.
Hello there: A humpback whale threw itself out of the water off the eastern coast of South Africa, waving to amazed onlookers in a tour guide’s boat
Having a whale of a time: The humpback had been swimming along the surface of the water, but disappeared for 20 minutes before suddenly leaping from the ocean
Flying fish: The jaw-dropping images were captured by Steven Benjamin, a marine tour guide who just happened to have his camera with him at the crucial moment
The 31-year-old, who was documenting the migration of more than 1,000 whales from the coast of South Africa to the warmer waters of Mozambique and Madagascar, watched as the whale flopped around in the ocean.
Mr Benjamin thought the humpback’s show was over after 20 minutes hiding deep under water, but it suddenly lifted ts entire body out of the water, extending a fin to onlookers before slamming back down, creating a huge splash.
The giant creature was clearly having a whale of a time as the marine tour guide watched from the safety of a boat off Port St John, in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.
The spectacular display of strength and agility ‘blew away’ Mr Benjamin, who had never before managed to get so close to a humpback.
Mr Benjamin said: ‘Huge whale breaches like this are common to see quickly from a distance, but it is exceptionally rare to have it occur close to the boat and have the camera ready.
‘I got this shot out of sheer luck. We were focused on this whale whilst it was doing normal tail slapping and half head flops.
‘It took a rest for 20 mins and then without notice or warning, it did a single massive breach.’
The 31-year-old amateur photographer was documenting the migration of more than 1,000 whales from the coast of South Africa to the warmer waters of Mozambique and Madagascar when the humpback appeared
Splashdown: The whole boat ‘erupted in screams’ as the whale came crashing down, creating a huge splash, a stunned Mr Benjamin said
Close encounter: Humpback whales are known for their acrobatics, but do not usually put on such displays when they are so near to boats
He added: ‘I was stunned. I’ve never seen such a huge, front on and high breach like that. The whole boat erupted in screams as it landed.’
Mr Benjamin, from Cape Town, only started taking pictures of marine life six years ago.
The amateur snapper won his camera in a local photography competition, allowing him to capture bigger and better shots.
He added: ‘People can’t believe its a real image, everyone always looks twice and are blown away by it.’
The acrobatic animals can grow up to 50ft long, and have a reputation for throwing themselves out of the water despite weighing up to 40 tons.
Humpback whales were almost hunted to extinction during the 1960s, but a ban has allowed their global population to reach approximately 80,000.