NI surfer chased from water by pod of killer whales

Orcas in Lough Swilly in 2012.Orcas in Lough Swilly in 2012.
Orcas in Lough Swilly in 2012.
It’s not every day you get up close and personal with Orcas – but that’s exactly what happened to one Northern Ireland man.

Ryan Vail was surfing in waters off Culdaff in Co Donegal on Friday when he was surrounded by a family (pod) of killer whales, one of which decided to chase him out of the water.

Ryan, a well-known Londonderry musician, told how it had been a relatively normal morning surfing when at around 11.30am, his friend Stef alerted him to something unusual in the water.

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“Myself and Stef were surfing in the water and there were a few onlookers on the beach,” he said.

Ryan Vail at Culdaff.Ryan Vail at Culdaff.
Ryan Vail at Culdaff.

“Stef had caught a wave and was turning back off it when he started waving at me to get my attention.

“I realised I was surrounded by a family of Orcas, two adults and three juveniles. Their fins were standing about three feet out of the water.

“I’m well used to the water and have seen basking sharks, dolphins and porpoises, so I knew it definitely wasn’t one of them.

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“I knew what I was looking at, so I also knew I shouldn’t be this close! So, there was a wee bit of panic.”

Ryan said that while, to his knowledge, there haven’t been any recorded incidents of Orcas harming humans, they seemed to be feeding and “weren’t swimming slowly at their leisure”.

“They would be more inquisitive and could maybe give you a nudge.

“But the way they were swimming scared me a bit, so I thought I better try to get out of there,” he explained.

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“There was a wave approaching and as it came towards me, one of the smaller juveniles started coming towards me quite aggressively.

“When I say smaller, he was still the size of a Transit van.”

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Ryan made it to shore and said he believes the juvenile Orca didn’t come in any further as it was too shallow.

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He added how the situation itself was unusual in that he and Stef were no more than 100 feet out from the shore.

“It was quite shallow, which was what caught us off guard, at first.

“At one point, the juvenile was in water no more than shoulder height. That’s why we think they were in hunting or feeding.”

When Ryan got out of the water, a group of onlookers were able to watch the Orcas swimming in the water.

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“It was brilliant, While I was in the water all I could really see were dark shadows, but when we were out, you could see the whiteness of their bellies and them breaching. The water of Culdaff is so clear, so you could see a lot.”

Ryan outlined how a person in a white jeep had been taking pictures, but they had left before they managed to catch up with them.

“We’d really love to see them, so hopefully they’ll get in touch.”

Since the experience on Friday, Ryan has been contacted by some other people who have seen Orcas up close, but said many seem to have experienced this around eight or 10 years ago.

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“I’m used to seeing seals and porpoises would come in every three or four weeks, but it feels abnormal to see a killer whale in Culdaff.”

Orcas were in the news last weekend for other reasons, as the Guardian reported how they left scientists baffled after they rammed sailing boats along the Spanish and Portuguese coasts.

It reported how the latest incident occurred on Friday afternoon just off A Coruña, on the northern coast of Spain.

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