On a morning like any other, Julie McSorley invited Liz Cottriel, her friend of nearly three decades, to go kayaking off California’s Central Coast. The pair set off in a yellow kayak and enjoyed views of the coastline and whales breaching in the distance.
The serene and picturesque day was completely upended when Cottriel heard a sound she described to the New York Times as “crackling glass.” What followed would be one of the most surreal experiences the pair had ever experienced together.
“We knew something was about to happen,” the kayaker said as she detailed the moments leading up to a whale overturning her boat.
“We knew something was about to happen, but we didn’t know where the whale was exactly,” McSorley, 55, a physical therapist, told NYT.
The “crackling glass” sound turned out to be schools of silverfish rushing to escape harm. A humpback whale then abruptly surfaced underneath their kayak, lifting them about six feet above the water, the friends explained.
“I kind of went blank,” McSorley said. “It was a matter of a second or two.”
“All I saw was white and I pushed my hand out and I thought, ‘I am getting crushed,’ because I thought it was either going to land on me or I was going to drown,” Cottriel, 63, an office manager, explained. “I am literally looking inside the whale’s mouth.”
Probably few would believe such a bizarre, but luckily a nearby kayaker captured video of the incident on her cellphone. In the video, you can hear gasps and screams as onlookers watched McSorley and Cottriel catapulted from the water by a large humpback whale. The pair somehow landed back in the water moments later.
“She popped up and I popped up right after her,” Cottriel told NYT.
An off-duty firefighter who was paddle-boarding close by helped them right the kayak. “He checked to see if we had our arms and legs and everything,” McSorley said.
Another thoughtful kayaker retrieved their paddles and returned them to the shaken up pair who were mostly unscathed save for some bruises to Cottriel’s arms and hip.
“I am fine,” she said.
“It has been a whirlwind of adrenaline,” McSorley said of the once in a lifetime experience.
“The more I reflect on it, the more I think, ‘This could have been it,’” Cottriel said.
Humpback whales are found in oceans around the world. But, for those of us in the US, we typically find them along the West Coast and off the coasts of Alaska, New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Southeast, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The mammals, which can weigh 40 tons, feed on krill and small fish by filtering large quantities of ocean water through their baleen plates, according to NOAA. Humpbacks are a favorite of whale watchers, who thrill at the sight of them jumping out of the water and slapping the surface with their pectoral fins or tails.
When the friends made it back to shore following the experience, Cottriel found that she had made some little friends from the experience.
As she shook her wet shirt to dry it out, ““out came five or six silver fish,” she said. “I am dumping fish out of my shirt. We found humor in it.”
The video of their experience is utterly terrifying and we’re so pleased to learn that these two are fine following their chance experience with the whale. It looked as if they were getting swallowed up! We’re kind of blown away that these two weren’t hurt.