MONTEREY COUNTY (CBS SF) — A man kayaking in Monterey Bay who was nearly crushed to death by a breaching whale relives the terrifying incident.

In a post for The Guardian, nature documentary filmmaker Tom Mustill writes he’s been kept awake the last few days thinking about how close he came to the whale. “The barnacles on its skin, the grooves on its throat, its bigness,” he said.

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People aboard a touring cruise ship in Monterey County watched as the whale performed a full 180 degree breach and landed on Mustill and his tandem kayaking partner.

One passenger recorded the terrifying moment.

“All of a sudden without warning, the water nearby to our right gave way to an adult whale shooting upwards, like a space shuttle taking off: a huge block of living thing impossibly held in the air,” Mustill wrote. “The only thing my brain registered was quite calmly that when it came down I was going to die. Then it fell, and I was underwater.”

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Once he surfaced, Mustill said he and his partner — both miraculously uninjured — laughed “partly to be alive, and partly because we didn’t know what else to do.”

Curious to understand what prompted a whale to breach so close, Mustill reached out to Joy Reidenberg, a whale specialist at Mount Sinai University in New York.

Reidenberg said it’s possible the breaching whale was surprised when it saw the kayak and reacted by turning to allow a softer part of its body to hit the kayak.

“I think you two survived because the whale cared about trying not to hit you,” Reidenberg told Mustill.

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Nicole Jones is a digital producer for CBS San Francisco. Follow her musings @nicjonestweets