Kayakers recall frightening humpback whale encounter at Avila Beach, California

Talk about biting off more than you can chew.

The extraordinary encounter unfolded off a California beach as two women, Julie McSorely and Liz Cottriel, embarked on a kayaking adventure to witness humpback whales during a feeding season.

Gripping footage showing the moment the pair realised they’d gotten more than they bargained for in November 2020 has emerged this week.

The short video showed the beast engulfing both the women’s kayak and themselves in its massive mouth. The video abruptly ends with whale seen behind an empty kayak drifting on the water, sparking concerns for their safety online.

However, to everyone’s relief, both women resurfaced unscathed, albeit shocked by the astonishing incident.

Humpback whales do not intentionally consume humans; the women were simply in the vicinity of fish that enticed the beast’s appetite.

While McSorely had previously ventured out to observe humpbacks feeding, Cottriel had reservations about joining the excursion.

Citing her fear of sharks and anything concealed beneath the water‘s surface, she initially declined. Nonetheless, McSorely managed to persuade her reluctant friend, an event that would forever alter Cottriel’s perspective.

Reflecting on the event, the women revealed that, during the encounter, they were unaware that they had potentially been swallowed by the whale. McSorely recounted the moment, explaining that the boat suddenly lifted and they were swiftly thrown into the water.

Cottriel, on the other hand, caught a glimpse of the whale‘s mouth but mistook it for its belly and instinctively raised her hand in defence.

“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,” Cottriel said.

“I’m thinking, ‘I’m dead. I’m dead.’ I thought it was going land on me. Next thing I know, I’m under water.”

With adrenaline coursing through her veins, Cottriel even entertained the audacious thought of pushing the whale aside.

She recollected her bewildering experience, saying, “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. Next thing I know, I’m underwater.”

Lost in the vastness of the ocean after being abruptly submerged, the women found themselves disoriented.

Uncertain of their position relative to the whale, or whether they were pulled down by the creature, McSorely expressed their bewildering situation, stating, “Once we were in the water, we didn‘t know where we were – if we were under the whale, if we were sucked down with the whales.”

Against all odds, both women resurfaced simultaneously, emerging beside their kayak and beside each other, an outcome that left them in awe of the surreal experience they had just lived through.

While attacks are rare, humpback whales have been known to target humans in the water.

In August 2020, a humpback whale charged a snorkelling group off the coast of Western Australia, injuring two women.

The incident occurred during a whale-watching snorkel tour near Exmouth on the state‘s North West Cape. The 15-metre-long mother whale swam aggressively towards the group, positioning herself between the snorkellers and her calf. She defensively slapped her pectoral fin and tail on the water.

One woman was struck by the tail, resulting in a fractured rib and internal bleeding, while another woman was hit by the fin, tearing a hamstring. The owner of Ningaloo Whaleshark Swim, Matt Winter, described the event as unprecedented and emphasised that it may never happen again.

The calf accompanying the mother whale was approximately eight to nine meters long.

According to Australian marine experts, swimmers should maintain a minimum distance of 100 metres between themselves and a whale.

Originally published as Footage emerges of kayakers being engulfed by humpback while whale-watching

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