Two whale watchers in California got more than the full experience when their kayak was capsized by a breaching humpback whale.
In astonishing footage of the incident taken by several witnesses, the kayak is thrust into the air as the whale breaches the surface with its mouth wide open.
Julie McSorley and her friend Liz Cottriel, both of San Luis Obispo, were kayaking off the coast of Avila Beach, watching whales about 30 feet from them, when they were surprised by the encounter, according to FOX26 News.
Local KSBY-TV journalist Melissa Newman shared two videos from bystanders who were filming at the time:
McSorley told FOX26 that she saw a large school of fish known as a bait ball approaching when she saw the whale coming toward her.
“I thought, ’Oh no! It’s too close,” said McSorley, who was recording on her cellphone.
“All of a sudden, I lifted up, and I was in the water.”
Cottriel said she thought the whale was going to crush her.
“I’m thinking to myself, ’I’m going to push. Like, I’m going to push a whale out of the way! It was the weirdest thought. I’m thinking, ‘I’m dead. I’m dead.’ I thought it was going to land on me,” she said. “Next thing I know, I’m underwater.”
According to KSBY, although footage from bystanders makes it look as though the women actually went inside the whale’s mouth, McSorley said the kayak just overturned and they were thrust into the water.
In McSorley’s video, she can be heard screaming before going underwater. When she resurfaces, she and her friend ask each other if they’re OK before one replies, “We’re good.”
Both women escaped unharmed and were assisted back to shore by other kayakers and paddle-boarders.
Experts say it’s important for whale watchers to keep their distance when swimming with or observing whales. They can behave unpredictably, and active surface behaviors, such as breaching, tail and fin slaps, pose risks to swimmers.
The harbor patrol told KSBY this can be tough to enforce as one moment there’s plenty of space and the next the whales may have quickly approached.