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Family has incredible close encounter with a killer whale off Camano Island

The orca appeared to be "playing" with the family in their boat off Camano Island.

CAMANO ISLAND, Wash. — Typically people venture out on Puget Sound looking for orcas, but for one lucky family, the orca found them.

Deborah Syna, her husband Dirk and their daughter Nina took their boat out on the water for the first time during summer, and it didn't take long for them to make a new friend.

"It was quite an adventure," Deborah Syna said.

"It was one of those 'holy cow' moments," said Dirk Syna. "It really was."

The family was in the water off Camano Island south of Elger Bay, when an orca took an interest in them. The whale headed directly for their small boat and began rubbing against its hull.

"It's like when you're walking and a dog starts following you," said Deborah Syna. "You just want it to move along."

The family captured about four minutes of the encounter on video. The orca appeared to be playing with the family, spinning their boat in circles. At one point the creature, bigger than the family's 17-foot Boston Whaler, swam directly underneath the boat.

That's when the encounter became less fun for the family.

"I was just thinking, it's under our boat. It's under our boat!" Deborah Syna said. "We didn't want to start the motor and hurt it and we didn't want to make it angry. We didn't know what to do."

Howard Garrett of Langley's Orca Network identified the killer whale as a 17-year-old male from the T65A pod. He said the orca was likely just having some fun, and the family reacted the right way.

"The best thing is to just sort of sit tight until there is a little room to get out of the area if you can, but do it slowly," Garrett said. "Idle away."

The video showed the family remaining remarkably calm, even as the whale swam beneath their boat.

"There wasn't really much we could do except be calm and wait and see what it was gonna do," Deborah Syna said. "But when we pulled away I noticed my hands were totally clutching the steering wheel!"

Eventually, the whale swam away and the family headed home, but a short time later it appeared the whale wasn't ready to say goodbye to its new playmates.

"I looked over my shoulder and there he was out in the middle of the passage following us for about 20 minutes," she said.

As they moved to shallow water the whale finally went its separate way -- leaving the family with some killer memories.

"It was pretty awesome," said Dirk Syna. 

"Yes, it was awesome," agreed Deborah Syna. "But we were glad to get back on land."