When a small pod of orcas visited Southern California waters recently, boaters relished the experience because these orcas are curious about people and made several close approaches.
But for Rich German, the encounter off Laguna Beach was much more intimate. German was aboard a standup paddleboard, and all that stood between him and the black-and-white predators was an oversized surfboard.
The paddler, who during the summer was criticized for being too aggressive in an attempt to stay with and videotape a blue whale, was realizing a dream as the orcas swam around and sometimes beneath him. (German states that there were five orcas, but expert observers say there were only four in the area.)
The accompanying footage was shortened to get right to German’s Orca experience, but the long version, which feature’s the paddler’s introduction, can be viewed here. The footage has been featured by several regional and some national media outlets, and German’s Facebook page is loaded with compliments from friends.
Not everyone is gushing, however. Some people on whale-themed social media sites contend that German was pushing his luck. One of the orcas is nicknamed Bumper because he has been known to nudge against boats, and that’s the orca that can be seen passing beneath German’s paddleboard.
Had German been knocked off his board—and all it would have taken was a nudge—who knows how these orcas would react?
“For all we know, they might not have let him back on his board, even if they were just playing and didn’t mean to harm him,” said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, who runs the California Killer Whale project and has had several encounters with the same orcas. “These orcas are not used to being with people in the water.”
The researcher also dismissed German’s claim, in his video introduction, to have been trying to “raise awareness” about the plight of orcas by releasing his footage.
“He was not raising any awareness,” Schulman-Janiger said. “A lot of people might feel he was doing this merely to get attention.”
The orcas, or killer whales, are known as the CA51 family group. Star, or CA51, is the mother. Bumper (CA51C) is an 11-year-old male; Orion (CA51B) is a 16-year-old male; and Comet is a 4-year-old female.
Their occasional forays into Southern California waters, from the north, are typically associated with the hunting of sea lions and dolphins.
Paddlers who do encounter the killer whales are advised not to paddle toward them, and to maintain low center of gravity of they are investigated, just to be on the safe side.
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