On Monday morning, Julie McSorley invited her 27-year-old friend Liz Cottriel to go kayaking off Avila Beach, Calif. In San Luis Obispo County, where they both live. The idea was simply to have an enjoyable day whale watching off the central California coast.
They set off in a yellow kayak, enjoying the sight of humpback whales feeding and breaking in the distance, a sight Ms McSorley had enjoyed the day before with her husband.
The friends were about half a mile from shore when they noticed schools of silver fish around their kayaks, making a noise that Ms Cottriel, 63, an office manager for an orthodontist, likened to “crackling glass. “.
“We knew something was about to happen, but we didn’t know the exact location of the whale,” said Ms. McSorley, 55, a physiotherapist.
A humpback whale then suddenly surfaced under their kayak, lifting them about six feet above the water, they said.
“I kind of got empty,” Ms. McSorley said. “It was a matter of a second or two.”
“Everything I saw was white and I pushed my hand out and thought, ‘I’m crushed’, because I thought it was going to land on me or I was going to drown,” he said. Ms. Cottriel said. “I’m literally looking inside the whale’s mouth.”
A nearby kayaker captured video of the wild encounter on a cell phone. In it, witnesses howl as the whale breaches, capsizes the kayak and throws the women into the water.
“She appeared and I appeared right after her,” Ms. Cottriel said.
An off-duty firefighter who was paddleboarding nearby helped them right the kayak. “He checked to see if we had our arms and legs and everything,” Ms. McSorley said.
Another kayaker found their paddles and returned them to the women, who were uninjured except for a few bruises on Ms Cottriel’s arms and hip.
“I’m fine,” she said.
But they had a fear that they will remember for the rest of their lives.
“It was an adrenaline rush,” Ms. McSorley said.
“The more I think about it, the more I think it could have been that,” Ms. Cottriel said.
Humpback whales are typically found along the west coast and off the coasts of Alaska, New England, the central Atlantic and the southeast, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The mammals, which can weigh up to 40 tons, feed on krill and small fish by filtering large volumes of seawater through their baleen, according to NOAA. Humpback whales are a favorite with whale watchers, who are delighted to see them leap out of the water and slap the surface with their pectoral fins or tails.
Back ashore on Monday, Ms Cottriel discovered that she had a small memory of the experience.
Shaking off her wet shirt, “five or six silverfish came out,” she laughs. “I throw fish from my shirt. We found humor there.