MONTEREY BAY, Calif. (KRON) — One whale did not get Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 social distancing memo.

San Jose firefighter Eric Mailander thought of a unique way to practice social distancing on his day off by seeking solitude in the sea.

He navigated his boat to the outer waters of the Monterey Bay. After he launched a drone to take a look around, he could see that he was not alone: A gray whale was swimming toward his boat.

Eric Mailander and the whale

Mailander knew that gray whales are gentle giants. This particular whale was so friendly that Mailander was able to reach out and touch it as the whale playfully “hung out” for more than a half hour, he said.

“Took the boat out on the pond today to practice social isolation from the COVID-19 and had a miracle day,” he wrote on Facebook Thursday.

Perhaps the whale sensed that the firefighter had endured a long week.

Whale encounter
(Photo by Eric Mailander)

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to grow, 13 of Mailander’s fellow San Jose firefighters tested positive for COVID-19, according to the city’s latest press release, and as many as 75 may have been exposed to the virus.

The firefighters’ union president wrote in a statement, “Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic as it grows among our residents is an unprecedented challenge, and we are up to that challenge. But it is also taking a tremendous toll on us as we fall ill.”

In addition to being a firefighter, Mailander is an avid marine mammal wildlife photographer.

“Just an epic day that cleansed the soul!” he wrote on Facebook. “Plenty of fresh air and animals.”

In addition to the gray whale, Mailander also photographed several humpback whales, right whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, and sea birds. (His photographs from Thursday are below).

Photo by Eric Mailander
Photo by Eric Mailander
Photo by Eric Mailander
Photo by Eric Mailander
Photo by Eric Mailander