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Close Encounter of the Cetacean Kind

Tim Sell reports having seen hundreds of orcas in Alaska and B.C., but none played with him like this one did off Pt. Arena.

© 2010 Tim Sell

Sausalito sailor Tim Sell has kept his Brent Swain 36 Lucky Star in Southeast Alaska for the last three years, spending the summers exploring that state’s spectacular waterways while wintering in Sausalito. Wanting to get started on a refit for future cruising plans, Tim decided this was the summer to bring Lucky Star home. Of course orcas are more than plentiful in northern waters, but Tim was approached by this juvenile just south of Point Arena on Saturday.

"It was really glassy out so I was motoring," reports Sell. "I’d been down below and had just popped my head up when something caught my eye. I looked over the side of the boat and the orca was four feet from my face! I was paralyzed. All I could do was grunt ‘Ooh, ooh, ooh.’ I sounded like a monkey!"

Orcas are actually members of the dolphin family. They can live up to 90 years, and typically travel in a matriarchal pod.

© 2010 Tim Sell

Sell says that the whale spent the next 10-15 minutes playing in the boat’s pressure wave. "She’d drop back, then come up to the stern, drop back again, come forward again," he said. "I finally collected myself enough to grab my camera. There were two more farther back, but she was the only one playing with the boat."

While it’s not unusual to spot orcas up and down the entire West Coast, interactions such as Sell had seem to be rare. Have you had a ‘close encounter’ with an orca — or other type of whale — that you’d like to share? Email a short report along with any photos you have.

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