Alaska Fishermen Rescue Killer Whale Stuck on Rocks

One of the three Alaska fishermen who spent nearly four hours freeing a killer whale stranded on rocks says the whale appeared to know they were there to help her.

"She never fought us," Jason Vonick, 42, told today. "She just sat there docile and calm the whole time and let us do what we needed to do. If we stopped petting her, she'd cry some more."

Vonick, a 22-year veteran fisherman from Ketchikan, Alaska, was preparing for the start of shrimp fishing season Sept. 30, along with his partners Nick Segal and John Oakes, when the trio noticed a group of killer whales hunting down seals on rocks in Klakas Inlet

When one of the whales, a female orca, became stuck on the rocks, Vonick, Segal and Oakes anchored their fishing vessel, Miss Mary, and took a smaller, 15-foot boat out to the rocks.

"We realized that she was definitely stuck," Vonick said of the 16-foot orca. "For the next four hours we just stayed with her and kept her calm and put water over her to keep her cool."

Vonick says the low tide prevented the men from doing anything else to help free the whale. As the tide started to come back in, hours later, the whale began to lose strength, unable to hold her head up and, "breathing and coughing like she was drowning," according to Vonick.

"At that point we stuck the oars under her pectoral fins and just tried to pry her off the rock," he said. "When we realized we could actually move her, we just grunted and groaned and used a lot of force and got her free."

Nearly 10 minutes later, the whale was back in the water and, "just righted herself, took a deep breath and was off," Vonick said.

The trio's heroic efforts were all caught on tape thanks to Vonick. He took video with his camera and posted it to YouTube last week, once he returned to Ketchikan at the end of shrimp-fishing season.

"We see whales from time to time but I've never, no one I even know, has ever done something like this," Vonick said of their once-in-a-lifetime rescue.

The men were not only being watched by the lens of Vonick's camera, but also by the group of whales with which the female orca had been traveling.

"We felt a little nervous about it because we weren't sure they knew we were trying to help," Vonick said. "We were especially nervous the bigger male whale would make a move because he was within five feet of us, but they just stayed right there and just watched the whole time."