Incredible drone footage has captured the moment a woman swimming in the blue waters off Hahei beach in New Zealand discovered she was not swimming alone. In what she has since described as a “life-changing experience”, she instead found herself swimming with a small pod of killer whales.
Judie Johnson, who is in her 60s, was completing a regular training swim when she realized she had company.
"There was a shape that went under me, like a huge shape and I thought [it was] dolphins. I was quite excited, and then I saw the great white color on the back,” she told New Zealand’s 1 NEWS.
She realized they were orcas and quickly swam for shore, worried they may mistake her for a seal thanks to her black wetsuit.
It is well-documented how brutal these animals can be to their prey. Anyone who has seen the episode of Frozen Planet that revealed their “wave-washing” technique, working in unison to create waves that topple ice floes where seals are trying to stay high and dry, can attest to this.
But there are actually no recorded attacks or deaths of humans by killer whales in the wild. They are much more likely to be curious like dolphins than to test if we are food by biting, like sharks. In captivity, sadly, it’s quite another story.
Not long after getting out of the water, Johnson surprised onlookers by getting back in to finish her swim, giving Australian surf photographer Dylan Brayshaw the chance to get his drone up and running to capture the extraordinary encounter.
She was soon surrounded again by the adult killer whale, juvenile, and baby, who circle and swim under her. The adult then playfully follows her, nose to toes, swimming lazily on its side before drawing up to swim alongside her, face to face.
Johnson told 1 NEWS her fear quickly turned to joy as she looked into the eyes of the orca swimming next to her. "They were as interested and curious about me as I was about them," she said.
It is unlikely she was in any danger from the killer whales. As orca expert Dr Regina Eisert also told 1 NEWS: "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."
However, this is a good time to point out that doesn’t mean they are completely harmless and if approached in the wild they are still wild animals that can be unpredictable. It is not recommended you go swimming with orcas unless part of a supervised excursion.
However, Johnson has no regrets about getting back in the water.
"It was so different to anything that’s happened to me before, and I thought, no, this is a life-changing experience.”
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