SYDNEY — A Sydney surfer had a lucky escape on Sunday when he was hit by a whale frolicking off Bondi Beach and knocked unconscious.
Bishan Rajapakse, a 38-year-old doctor, said the last thing he remembers before waking up on the beach was saying “Hey, how’s it going?” to the whale, believed to be a southern white, as it swam near him and other surfers, the Sydney Morning Herald said.
“When I got to him I saw there was this dark, black shadow and it was just massive,” he told the paper.
“The whale was moving in like slow motion. It was beautiful and it breached and we could see the barnacles and it was slowly going up and down and turning and it actually made a noise. It was amazing.”
New South Wales Ambulance said several whales were close to the iconic beach on Sunday morning. Paramedics were called in to help when one of the large animals hit, or flicked with its tail, the male surfer, knocking him out.
“He was knocked unconscious very briefly,” a spokesman told AFP, adding that the man was rescued by fellow surfers and was not seriously injured.
“He is lucky people were there (to help him), but we were also lucky that he’s the only one (needing help),” the spokesman said.
One witness told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the whale was “the size of a bus” and had been frolicking with the group of surfers.
“I mean, it was 40 feet long – it was huge,” Lachlan Harris told the broadcaster.
“They were playing and the whale was frolicking with them and having a lot of fun and sort of popping its head out.
“It just flicked its tail and some surfers were in the wrong (place) and the next thing, you know, a surfboard is flying in the air… It was unbelievable.”
Anthony Carroll, a lifeguard with Bondi Rescue, said Rajapakse, reportedly a New Zealander of Sri Lankan descent, had been very close to the whale when the accident occurred, apparently unable to resist the temptation to see the animal up close.
“His board had been smashed in pretty badly. It looked like he was thrown about three meters above the water,” he told the Herald.
“The tail of a whale is the strongest muscle on any animal in the world. Some humpback whales get up to 80 tons. It’s an extreme no-no to go in the vicinity of a whale.”
Rajapakse, who was in danger of drowning after he was hit, said he had a slight headache but no other injuries from the experience which amazed those at the beach, including the paramedics called in to treat the unusual case.
“I’ve been a paramedic for 12 years and this is by far the most interesting case and way out (case) that I’ve ever done,” Kristie Sky, who treated Rajapakse, told the ABC.
“Everyone that’s… heard the story, they’re all pretty amazed by it as well.”