In late September three commercial shrimp fishermen near Ketchikan, Alaska came to the aid of a killer whale stranded on a shallow, rocky inlet. A video posted on YouTube last week shows the men calmly petting a large female orca and pouring water over its body, waiting for the rising tide to help them return it to the water.
Jason Vonick told ABC news that he and his partners, Nick Segal and John Oakes, were preparing for the start of their fishing season when they saw several killer whales hunting seals near a rocky inlet. When one of the orcas got stuck on some rocks, the men anchored their fishing vessel and ventured closer in a smaller, 15-foot boat to see if they could help, but the orca’s mass and low tide was working against them.
“We realized that she was definitely stuck,” Vonick said of the 16-foot orca. “For the next four hours we just stayed with her and kept her calm and put water over her to keep her cool.”
Vonick said just as the tide began to rise, the whale started to lose strength and coughing like it was drowning.
“At that point we stuck the oars under her pectoral fins and just tried to pry her off the rock,” he said. “When we realized we could actually move her, we just grunted and groaned and used a lot of force and got her free.”
Ten minutes later, the whale slipped into the water, righted itself, took a breath, and rejoined her brethren. Despite the hours it took to rescue the orca, the group of whales she was hunting with never left her side.
“We felt a little nervous about it because we weren’t sure they knew we were trying to help,” Vonick said. “We were especially nervous the bigger male whale would make a move because he was within five feet of us, but they just stayed right there and just watched the whole time.”