“It’s something most of us can only ever dream of. You’re swimming in the ocean, minding your own business, when suddenly a family of sleek marine mammals materializes, joining you as you glide through the water.5” Many of us dream about swimming with dolphins but can you imagine swimming with orcas!
Can you even imagine witnessing such a truly magical encounter between these majestic animals and other humans? That is exactly what happened to Dylan Brayshaw, an ocean, surf, and travel photographer based on the Gold Coast of Australia. He was in the right place at the right time.
He was visiting Hahei Beach, New Zealand, when he was “super lucky to be there at the exact moment these orcas interacted and played with Judie Johnson.
Judie was out for a training swim when she got the experience of a lifetime.” 1 Orcas are marine mammals also known as “killer whales.” They were given the nickname by ancient sailors who observed them hunting in groups. 2
Brayshaw posted the absolutely amazing video shared below of the orcas playing with Johnson. Here is how he described how it unfolded:
“I was watching a pod of orcas swimming up the beach, I saw a swimmer swimming along shore directly towards them, at this point I asked my partner to get my mobile phone as I wasn’t sure what would happen and I may have to call for help.
The orcas circled her and she got quite the fright. She then got out the water as she was only 20m from shore. Some onlookers chatted to her about the experience and then to my surprise she got back into the water and swam back towards the pod, to I assume continue her training swim. I then launched the drone and filmed from a fair distance away making sure not to disturb the pod of orcas. What I witnessed was truly amazing.” 3
The swimmer, Judie Johnson, was interviewed by New Zealand’s 1NewsNow about the incredible moments captured by Brayshaw’s drone camera. This is how she describes what unfolded in the water:
“There was a shape that went under me, like a huge shape and I thought [it was] dolphins and I was quite excited, and then I saw the great white color on the back. I was also thinking they eat seals and I’m in a black wetsuit.” 4
“It was so different to anything that’s happened to me before, and I thought, no, this is a life-changing experience. They were as interested and curious about me as I was about them.” 4
Dylan posted the original footage to his Facebook page later that day and then to YouTube. It was quickly picked up by media outlets and immediately went viral:
Reporters for 1NewsNow consulted Dr. Reginal Eisert, a comparative mammalian physiologist at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury, who said that Johnson was never in any 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.”4
It turns out that the playful orcas like to surprise other humans in their neighborhood. The video below shows an encounter that Rowan Virbickas had with a family or orcas earlier this year.
Virbickas is a spearfisherman from Whitianga, New Zealand. He described his own experience like this, “A family of orca came to see us collecting Sea Urchin. They hung around and played for a while. We had seen this group last year – this year they had a baby with them! One got a bit cheeky and pulled my fin near the end.”6
You can see more of Dylan’s work here and on his business page on Facebook where he’s posted photos of his work and the original video.
1Dylan Brayshaw Photography. Business Facebook Page.
2WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Facts About Orcas.
3Dylan Brayshaw. Orcas Playing with Swimmer at Hahei Beach, New Zealand. 11 December 2018. YouTube.
41NewsNow. Most watched: Extraordinary drone footage shows woman surrounded by orca whales while out for Coromandel swim. 10 December 2018. 1 NewsNow. Auckland.
5Starr M. Stunning drone video has captured wild orcas playing with a human swimmer 13 December 2018. Science Alert.
6Rowan Virbickas. Orca Visiting Me at Work – Shot on GoPro Hero 7. 28 November 2018. YouTube.
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