Julie McSorley and Liz Cottriel were kayaking in California’s San Luis Obispo Bay when the unthinkable happened. Suddenly, the two were engulfed by a giant humpback whale and spent a moment in its mouth. The entire thing was caught on video by people nearby, and it happened so fast that the two women didn’t even realize they were in the whale’s mouth until they saw footage after the fact.
The incident occurred in fall 2020 when humpback whales had been active in the bay near Avila Beach. Kayakers and paddlers came to the area to watch them feed—McSorley being one of them. So when Cottriel came for a visit, McSorley convinced her friend they should go again, despite her pal's apprehension.
“Her reaction was, ‘No, I don't like the ocean. I'm scared of sharks. I'm scared of anything I can't see in the water.' And I so ignorantly told her, ‘Oh, they're never going to dump you over. The kayaks are very stable. I've never had an issue,'” McSorley recalled.
Things were tame for the first hour in the water. The two women, in kayaks and wearing life vests, would watch for swarms of fish—aka “bait balls”—and wait for the whales to feed, then move to that place a few minutes later. McSorley and Cottriel were waiting and watching for the next bait ball when they saw that little fish were all around them.
“So I knew it was going to be very close, but again, I'd seen whales breach right next kayaks before. So my mind was like, this is going to be, you know, super cool,” McSorley shared. “And then all of a sudden the boat lifted up and we were dumped in the water very, very quickly.”
Cottriel said that she could see the whale’s mouth as it closed in on them and was sure that she was a goner. “Next thing I know, I'm under water.” Luckily, the women return unscathed, now with an amazing story to tell.
Watch a video of the incident below. It’s something you have to see to believe.
Julie McSorley and Liz Cottriel were kayaking in California’s San Luis Obispo Bay when they were momentarily engulfed by a humpback whale. You need to see it to believe it.