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Whale Swallows Kayak (NEARLY!)

Mark Armstrong
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Whale swallows kayak: In a heart-stopping moment off the coast of California, two kayakers had a near miss with a massive humpback whale. 

The astonishing encounter was captured on camera, highlighting the awe-inspiring power and grace of these ocean giants. 

Authorities urge caution and respect for marine life in shared waters.

Whale Swallows Kayak: The Story

Key Points

  • Two kayakers were almost swallowed by a humpback whale off the California coast
  • The two women ended up inside the whale’s mouth
  • The entire ordeal was caught on camera by several witnesses, including the two kayakers themselves 
  • The incident happened while the kayakers were whale watching off the coast of Avila Beach, California
  • The two kayakers, Julie McSorley and Liz Cottriel were unharmed during the close encounter

On a sunny day back in early November 2020, kayakers Julie McSorley and Liz Cottriel were happily watching endangered humpback whales off the coast of Avila Beach, California, in San Luis Obispo Bay. 

All of a sudden, a huge whale comes up underneath their kayak and the two kayakers (along with their kayak) end up inside the mouth of the whale. 

In the ordeal that lasts only a few seconds, the two kayakers are knocked off their tandem sit-on-top kayak before being spat out along with their yellow kayak.

Nearby paddleboarders and other kayakers who witnessed the incident hurried to help the pair and make sure they weren’t injured. The two women were able to reunite with their kayak, climb back on, and paddle safely to shore. 

Two Women Describe Their Close Call

“I saw the big pool of fish, the big bait ball come up out of the water. I saw the whale come up,” McSorley said. “I thought, ‘Oh no! It’s too close.”

“The whale was right here in my face, literally,” Cottriel said.

McSorley recorded the entire encounter on her cell phone.

“All of a sudden, I lifted up, and I was in the water,” said McSorley.

“I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’m gonna push. Like, I’m gonna 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 gonna land on me,” Cottriel said. “Next thing I know, I’m under water.”

When the pair finally got back to shore, Cottriel discovered she had a bunch of small fish inside her shirt (some of the intended meal of the whale). 

McSorley discovered she’d lost her car keys during the ordeal. 

Like The Tales From Fiction

The close encounter brings back memories of fictional tales from books and movies, such as Pinocchio, Finding Nemo, and the biblical parable of Jonah and the whale. 

However, unlike the characters from these tales, the two kayakers were not swallowed.

In fact, despite having mouths up to 10 feet long, humpback whales can’t swallow a human because their throats are too small. The throat of a humpback whale is only the size of a human fist in diameter, stretching up to around 15 inches to eat a large meal. 

Whale Swallows Kayak Video

The viral video, taken by a whale watcher on the water, starts with a peaceful scene and calm water, with seabirds calling before the water is disturbed when a large school of fish begins to surface.

In a split second, the video then shows the moment the large humpback whale breaches the surface, knocking the kayak and the two paddlers up in the air and into its mouth.

In the aftermath, you can see the yellow kayak floating upside down as other paddlers begin to retreat.  

Do Whales Normally Attack Kayaks Or Small Boats?

While it’s not a common occurrence, close encounters with whales do happen.

Because of the sheer size of most whales compared to humans and kayaks, some of these encounters can be dangerous. 

Whales don’t normally attack kayaks or small boats out of aggression. Humpback whales are not aggressive but their size (and the power of their tails) makes them dangerous to humans in kayaks and small boats.

Whales, including humpback whales and blue whales, typically eat small fish and crustaceans, such as krill.

So, when there’s a close call between a whale and a small boat or kayak, this is often because the small boat is in the feeding zone and has become surrounded by the food source, as was the case of McSorley and Cottriel.  

This could lead to the boat ending up in the mouth of a whale by accident. 

However, because whales are mammals and require air to breathe, you will find them jumping out of the water. If you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, you could find yourself being landed on, lifted off the water, or toppled.

Video: Humpback Whale Lands On Kayakers

What About Orcas?

Orcas are not whales. Orcas are part of the dolphin family but because of their large size, they are often referred to as killer whales. 

Unlike whales, orcas are known to be aggressive. Recently, there have been a number of encounters with orcas attacking boats, particularly off the coasts of Spain and Portugal. 

The boats that have been rammed, and sometimes sunk, are not what you might describe as small and they are certainly much larger than a kayak.

> Kayaking with Orcas guide

Video: Orcas Attacking Boats In Europe 

In one of the most recent documented incidents, in June 2023, a seven-ton yacht was attacked off the coast of the Shetland Islands, Scotland. 

This incident of an orca attacking a boat in Scotland is one of over 500 similar incidents that have been reported by the Atlantic Orca Working Group between 2020 and 2023.

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