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'Very spooked': Oregon boat captain describes close encounter with orca

Dan Rocha, who captured video of a pod of orcas, said one of the males started swimming in the direction of his boat and swam right underneath it.

PACIFIC CITY, Ore. — There have been orca sightings reported along the Oregon Coast over the past week with people sharing photos and videos on social media. One boat captain who captured some video of a pod of orcas earlier this week said an encounter with one of the males came a little too close for comfort.

Dan Rocha, a charter boat captain out of Pacific City, said he spotted five orcas while he was taking a crew fishing about 5 miles north of Cape Kiwanda off Sand Lake. A few minutes after taking the video, Rocha said one of the male orcas started swimming in the direction of his boat and swam right underneath it.

"Three cows, a calf and a bull — and they were big," Rocha said. "My boat is 23 feet long and when he swam under the boat there was fish on both ends of the boat at the same time. So he was big."

Bob Pitman, a retired Marine biologist who worked 40 years for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said the orcas seen in this video are transient whales, pretty common off the Oregon Coast.

"In higher latitudes, killer whales become prey specialists," he said. "Quite often they are fish eaters and mammal eaters. They don't interact generally."

Pitman said they generally reach 25 to 30 feet.

"They are the biggest apex predator we have probably," he said. "There hasn't been anything like them since the dinosaurs walked the earth."

RELATED: Watch: Transient orcas seen up close near Pierce County's Fox Island

Rocha said he thinks the orca that came under his boat was about 30 feet long.

"Very spooked," Rocha said of the close encounter with the orca. "I didn't like that at all. And then once he went away, we relaxed a little bit."

The Newport Police Department shared a couple photos of orcas this week in Yaquina Bay in Newport.

"Orcas don't hang around our bay very long, but they do visit a few times each year," the department wrote on the Facebook post.

Orcas don’t hang around our bay very long, but they do visit a few times each year. Maybe they came for the donuts...

Posted by Newport Oregon Police Department on Friday, June 3, 2022

Social media groups dedicated to whale watching have been posting videos, photos and information about sightings of orcas over the past week, from Depoe Bay to Lincoln City to Pacific City to Boiler Bay to Florence.

RELATED: Boaters fined for approaching Southern Resident orcas, potentially hurting feeding

According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), orcas are most often seen off Depoe Bay and Newport but can be spotted up and down the Oregon Coast. There are usually an average of 30 orca sightings in Oregon per year, according to the Whale Watching Center.

Typically, orcas only stick around for a couple weeks around this time of year. The best places to spot them are from high vantage points, including the Yaquina Bay lighthouse, the Yaquina Head area, Don Davis Memorial Park in Nye Beach, Cape Foulweather and the sea wall at Depoe Bay.

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