A Ketchikan boy found himself face-to-face with a large and apparently charging killer whale Saturday in Helm Bay.
Ellis Miller, 12, was standing in about 4 feet of water when the fast-moving orca estimated at more than 25 feet in length broke the surface a few yards away and headed straight for him.
“I looked underwater and there was this huge head right in front of me,” said Miller, still wide-eyed on Monday. The killer whale bumped the boy, but did not bite or harm him.
The pressure wave from the animal’s quick approach helped propel Miller and a woman who was standing in shallower water to the sandy beach a few feet away.
Six more killer whales surfaced moments later, and the pod patrolled the beachfront for about 10 minutes. On their final pass they slapped their pectoral fins and tails on the water repeatedly — directly in front of where Miller and Kathy Arntzen watched from the beach.
Then the pod was gone. “We just sat there in awe,” Arntzen said.
Whale researchers say such in-water contact between killer whales and humans is extremely rare. They say it’s difficult to know exactly what prompted the behavior, but the possibilities range from simple curiosity to an aborted attack.
“I suspect that the whale that approached (Miller) thought he was a harbor seal splashing,” wrote John Ford, a researcher of killer whales with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, British Columbia, in an e-mail to the boy’s parents, Kevin and Nettie Miller.
There has never been a documented fatal killer whale attack on a human, and there are very few instances of killer whales initiating contact with humans, researchers said. The only relatively well-documented bite was one suffered by a surfer in California in the early 1970s.
Dude............ How cool would this be for a "what I did this summer" essay on the first day of classes?!?! =)
(My friend Jen teaches school in Ketchikan, AK, which is how I found out about the story....)
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