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Swimmer’s dramatic encounter with orca

Catriona Barr had a close encounter with a killer whale off Lerwick on Wednesday. Photo: BBC Radio Shetland

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A WOMAN who swims in the sea near Lerwick every day has told of her “terror” at witnessing a killer whale emerge just five feet beneath her.

Catriona Barr took to the sea at Breiwick on Wednesday morning as usual, but her swim was cut short after she realised that a “huge” orca was in the water around one and a half metres below her.

The whale did not attack the woman and ultimately swam away, but one onlooker thought Barr was going to be “mauled”.

The swimmer told BBC Radio Shetland that she first thought something was up when a number of people gathered on land to look out to sea.

It was only then that she caught sight of a killer whale underneath in the water, with Barr then hurriedly rushing out of the sea after the animal had lost interest and moved on.

“I was just swimming along, and I was aware that there were quite a lot of people standing on the banks,” she said.

“Because people do that sometimes, and I didn’t think too much of it. And I thought ‘well maybe they’re just watching me swim’, but I thought they should really be used to me by now because I swim here every day.

“But then I looked under the water and there was a huge orca about five feet away from me just finished swimming underneath me, and it turned around to have a bit of a look at me.

Erik Isbister, who caught some of the incident on film, thought the whale was heading straight for Barr. Photo: BBC Radio Shetland

“I’m used to being a bit frightened in the water, because obviously it’s the sea and it’s wild, but I’ve never come across a huge sea mammal like that. I just thought, ‘well, I have to go out the water’. I think they’re just designed to terrify you, and absolutely it did.”

Erik Isbister saw the incident unfold as he filmed the orca and he told the radio station that the whale “made a beeline” for Barr.

He saw the whale around 300 metres away from the swimmer before changing direction and charging towards her and going under water.

“My heart was in my mouth. I thought she was going to get mauled. He was definitely going for the attack,” Isbister said.

“At the last minute, I assume he realised she wasn’t a selkie.”

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