Kayakers’ Close Encounter with a Humpback Whale: A Tale of Survival

    A Thrilling Encounter at Sea: Kayakers Meet a Humpback Whale Up Close


    Julie McSorley and Liz Cottriel embarked on a seemingly ordinary whale-watching kayak trip off California’s Central Coast, only to experience a life-altering encounter. While enjoying the serene waters near Avila Beach, they noticed schools of silver fish, creating a sound likened to “crackling glass,” hinting at the presence of something larger beneath the surface.

    In this image from Sam Mcmillan of Atascadero, California, kayakers Liz Cottriel (on the right) and Julie McSorley (on the left) are seen in San Luis Obispo Bay. From Sam McMillan’s photo

    Their peaceful excursion took a dramatic turn when a humpback whale, a majestic creature of the deep, suddenly surfaced right beneath their kayak. The whale’s emergence catapulted their kayak about six feet into the air, leaving them in a state of shock. McSorley, a physical therapist, and Cottriel, an office manager, found themselves momentarily airborne before plunging into the ocean.

    The whale emerged between Cottriel and McSorley, and this photo, taken by Atascadero, California resident Sam Mcmillan, shows a kayak paddle protruding from its mouth. (Photo by Sam McMillan)

    The incident, captured on video by a nearby kayaker, shows the whale breaching and capsizing the kayak, throwing the women into the water. Amidst the chaos, an off-duty firefighter paddle-boarding nearby rushed to their aid, ensuring their safety. Another kayaker retrieved their paddles, helping them regain composure after the unexpected upheaval.

    Cottriel on the left, McSorley on the right. (Submitted by Liz Cottriel and Julie McSorley)

    Despite the harrowing experience, McSorley and Cottriel emerged from the encounter unharmed, save for a few bruises. Reflecting on the incident, they shared a mix of adrenaline and humor, with McSorley even finding fish in her shirt as a bizarre souvenir of their close encounter with the humpback whale. This extraordinary event highlights the unpredictable nature of wildlife encounters and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of awe-inspiring natural phenomena.