Orca Punts Seal, Sending it Flying 70 Feet in the Air in Shocking Encounter

Chase Dekker Wildlife Images/Getty Images

Sometimes, lucky whale watchers will have the exhilarating honor of seeing a whale breach, majestically jumping out of the water Free Willy-style for all to see. They don't usually make it too far above the water's surface, however, and certainly not as high as a five-story building.

An orca researcher captured something even rarer on camera: a whale sending a seal flying 70 feet in the air. Alisa Schulman-Janiger, co-founder of the California Killer Whale Project, snapped the photos of a male orca using his flukes to throw a harbor seal several dozen feet above the ocean where it floated momentarily with the seagulls.

"After three failed attempts, adult male T069C tossed a harbor seal more than 70 feet up into the air—sending it flying wide-eyed above the circling gulls!" Schulman-Janiger said in a Facebook post chronicling the event. "I took five photos after my highest capture, with no seal in sight, lowered my camera, looked for the seal, and saw it splash down next to the submerged orca several seconds later!" Needless to say it was a "jaw-dropping encounter."

Schulman-Janiger reflected on the once-in-a-lifetime moment in an interview with USA Today's FTW. "It’s still the most astounding thing I’ve seen,” she confessed. "A momentous moment in my life." Stunning video from the incident shows onlookers in disbelief as the seal is flung nearly 80 feet above the water.

The West Coast is no stranger to both whales and seals. California is home to some prime whale-watching spots in Monterey Bay, Big Sur, San Diego, and Santa Barbara. Seals, meanwhile, are beloved co-residents of cities like San Diego and San Francisco.

While seals usually make for quick meals for orcas, it's not every day the predators tenderize their meat by throwing it high in the air.