On Monday morning, Julie McSorley invited her 27-year friend Liz Cottriel, to go kayaking off Avila Beach, California, in San Luis Obispo County, where the two live together. The idea is simply to spend a fun day for whales watching California’s Central Coast.
They set off on a yellow kayak, immersed in the view of foraging and wandering humpback whales in the distance, a scene Miss McSorley had enjoyed the day before with her husband.
The friends were about half a mile from shore when they noticed herds of silver fish around their kayak, making a sound that Ms. Cottriel, 63, the office director of an orthodontist, likened to “broken glass”;.
“We know something is going to happen, but we don’t know exactly where the whale is,” said Ms McSorley, 55, a physical therapist.
A humpback whale suddenly emerged below their kayak, they said, lifting them about 6 feet above the water’s surface.
“I went blank,” said Mrs. McSorley. “It’s a matter of a second or two.”
“All I saw was white and I pushed my hand away and I thought, ‘I’m crushed’, because I thought it would fall on me or I would drown,” said Ms. Cottriel “I’m actually looking inside the whale’s mouth.”
A nearby kayak videotaped the wild encounter on a mobile phone. In it, witnesses shouted as the whale rushed in, overturned the kayak and threw the women into the water.
“She showed up and I did right after her,” said Miss Cottriel.
A nearby firefighter helped them paddle the right kayak. “He checked to see if we had arms and legs and everything,” said Ms. McSorley.
Another kayak found their paddle and returned it to the women, who were unhurt except for some bruises on Miss Cottriel’s arms and hips.
“I’m fine,” she said.
But they had a fear they would bear in mind for life.
“It’s a whirlwind of adrenaline,” said Mrs. McSorley.
Mrs. Cottriel said: “The more I think about it, the more I think, ‘This could happen.
Humpback whales are commonly found along the West Coast and off the coast of Alaska, New England, the Middle Atlantic and Southeast, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Mammals, which can weigh up to 40 tons, eat mollusks and small fish by filtering large amounts of ocean water through their horn plates, according to the NOAA. Humpback whales are a favorite among whale watchers who feel thrilled to see them jump out of the water and slap the surface hard with their pectoral fins or tails.
Back on shore on Monday, Ms. Cottriel finds that she has a small souvenir of the experience.
As she shook her wet shirt, “there are five or six silverfish,” she said with a laugh. “I am taking fish out of my shirt. We find humor in it ”.