Eleven-year-old Cailey Maxwell's weekly scuba dive started an hour late Saturday morning, but she could not have cared less. Nothing under the water could compare with what she had just seen above it.

Six miles off Atlantic City, Cailey and her family, of Bedminster, Pa., spent nearly an hour watching an energetic humpback whale leap from the water and splash down, again and again.

The family had left Ocean City, where they are staying at Cailey's grandfather's house, in a 28-foot-boat and was en route to the Atlantic City Reef for a dive about 7:30 a.m. when, Cailey said, "My Pop-Pop saw this huge thing jump out of the water."

"We were all amazed," said James Maxwell, Cailey's father. "My dad's been sailing and fishing out there forever and he's never seen that."

Cailey had never seen a humpback whale before, she said: "Only in movies or in pictures."

The boat kept out of splashing range, maybe a half-mile away, Cailey said. But then the whale decided to become a bit friendlier and made straight for the boat.

"It touched its nose to our boat and then it went under our boat," said Cailey, who added that she was not alarmed at this development. "It was on its back flapping its fin. I could have touched it."

After an hour, more boats had arrived to gawk at the whale, so the Maxwell crew decided to clear out and follow through with the scheduled dive.

Humpback whales are not unknown off southern New Jersey, especially in the late summer.

Several humpbacks washed up in Wildwood in 2005 and in Brigantine and Wildwood Crest in 2006, Press archives show. The latter whale was the suspected culprit in the sinking of a fishing boat.

Contact Eric Scott Campbell:

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