A recreational swimmer training in the waters off New Zealand suddenly found herself surrounded by three orcas believed to be an adult, juvenile and calf in what she called “a life-changing experience.”
Judie Johnson usually swims with friends off Coromandel on the North Island, but when nobody showed up at Hahei Beach, she started swimming alone. She wasn’t alone for long.
“There was this shape that went under me, like a huge shape and I thought, ‘Oh, dolphins,’ and I was quite excited,” she told 1 News of New Zealand. “And then I saw the white, the great white color on the back and thought ‘Oh my God these aren’t dolphins, these are orcas.’”
Australian tourist Dylan Brayshaw, noticing Johnson swimming toward a pod of orcas, quickly deployed his drone and captured the encounter on video, which shows the orcas playfully checking her out, with the adult even seeming to nip at her feet. Johnson even came eye to eye with the orcas.
“It was about this far apart and we just looked at each other…and they were huge eyes,” Johnson told 1 News.
Johnson also told 1 News she was thinking they eat seals and “I’m in a black wetsuit.”
Initially she got out of the water, but to the surprise of Brayshaw, who figured she’d stay out of the water and walk back, Johnson completed her training swim.
Orca expert Dr. Regina Eisert claimed Johnson wasn’t in danger. “Killer whales are the largest of the dolphin family so they are just big dolphins with a fancy paint job and we all know dolphins are very, very smart and very playful,” she told 1 News.
Still, orcas are wild marine mammals and swimmers and boaters are instructed to keep a safe distance.