Julie McSorley says she learned a lesson about not getting too close to feeding humpbacks.

Julie McSorley says she learned an important lesson after she and her friend found themselves in the jaws of a humpback whale: “Whales need their own space.”

McSorley and Liz Cottriel were kayaking together in California’s San Luis Obispo Bay on Monday morning, watching whales feeding on silvery fish, when one of the massive marine animals surfaced below them, tipping the kayak over and dumping them into the water. 

According to video and photos from other kayakers and paddlers, the women and their kayak appeared in the whale’s jaws for a moment, though the two friends say it happened too quickly for them to be sure. 

“‘It made me think that our location was not in a whale feeding area,’ McSorley told As It Happens host Carol Off.” 

” We didn’t feel like we were that close, but we were definitely in an area where we shouldn’t have been, so I learned my lesson very well.”

Humpback whale activity in Luis Obispo Bay near Avila Beach has recently attracted kayakers and paddlers to watch them feed.

McSorley had already watched them once, so when her friend visited the town, she asked if she wanted to go with her.

“The friend responded, ‘No, I don’t like the ocean. I’m afraid of sharks. And I fear anything I can’t see in the water.” And I so ignorantly said to her: “‘They’ll never throw you off. Kayaks are very stable. There’s never been a problem,'” McSorley says.

“And she reluctantly came with me, just to have a new experience.”

The friends followed a pair of humpback whales for the first hour as they fed. First, they would spot swarms of fish – or “bait balls” – in the distance, watch the whale’s surface to provide, wait a few minutes, and then move to where the whales had just been.

When small fish suddenly appeared around them, they would sit quietly in their kayak and wait to see where the next ball of bait would appear. 

” So I knew it would be very close, but then again, I had seen whales breach right up to the kayaks before. Anyway, I thought it was going to be, you know, really cool,” McSorley said.

” All of a sudden, the boat lifted, and we were thrown into the water fast.”

At that moment, Cottrill saw the inside of the whale’s mouth coming down on them but mistook it for a belly. In a state of panic and confusion, she threw her hand up to stop it. 

“She thought, ‘Now I’m going to push. Like, I will push the whale out of the way.” Such a thought was the strangest thing. I’m thinking, ‘I’m dead. I’m dead.” I thought it would land on me,” Cottriel told the local Fox News affiliate.

“Next thing I know, I’m underwater.”

McSorley said it all happened so quickly that she remembers feeling the boat lift off and then being underwater. 

” Once we were in the water, we didn’t know where we were – whether we were under the whale or being sucked in with the whales,” she said.

” So we both … ended up next to the kayak and next to each other. It was crazy.”

Nearby was Sam McMillan, who was photographing the whales at the time. According to Sam McMillan, he immediately knew he would get a good shot when he saw the size of the bait ball. 

It wasn’t until he heard people yelling, “Are you OK?” that he realized there were two people and a kayak among the fish and the whale.

” After making sure Julie and Liz were OK, I came home and saw the pictures I had taken showing them right in the whale’s mouth and realized what had happened,” he said. 

McSorley and Cottriel only realized it once other kayakers came to their aid.

“They told us, ‘You were in the mouth, you were in the mouth of a whale!” said McSorley. “But we didn’t realize anything at that point. And we only realized it after we watched the videotape.”

At the same time, McSorley said she will only kayak when whales come ashore if she can keep a soccer field’s distance from the creatures.

“I will kayak in the ocean next to dolphins, otters, seals, and everyone else,” she said. ” However, I believe whales need their own space.”