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Video shows cougar swimming across Lake Whatcom

Jordan Kirbyson, a water skier who lives on Lake Whatcom, took this photo of a cougar swimming in Lake Whatcom on June 5, 2016. He was in a boat about 15 feet from the animal.
Jordan Kirbyson, a water skier who lives on Lake Whatcom, took this photo of a cougar swimming in Lake Whatcom on June 5, 2016. He was in a boat about 15 feet from the animal. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

The swimming cougar of Lake Whatcom became a viral sensation this week after Jordan Kirbyson of Bellingham posted photos of the big cat on Facebook.

Kirbyson, his father, and a neighbor had just finished up their morning water ski run Sunday, June 5, at Lake Whatcom when they saw a cougar swimming in the water about 300 feet from wooded Reveille Island.

A stunned Kirbyson grabbed his cellphone and a video camera as the men idled the boat until they were about 15 feet from the cougar, which was swimming from the island near Camp Firwood straight across the lake to popular Hertz Trail at North Lake Whatcom Park, a distance of nearly half a mile.

They watched the cougar swim for roughly 15 minutes, losing sight of it once the animal reached the Hertz Trail, which is snuggled between Lake Whatcom and Stewart Mountain, and bolted into the trees.

“We were just in awe of the majesty of this thing that was going on in front of us,” Kirbyson said. “It was truly a unique and special experience. It was amazing.”

Dave Jones, a state Fish & Wildlife game warden in Whatcom County, said it’s not unusual for a cougar to be near water, but swimming is unusual.

“I’ve never heard or seen anything like this in Whatcom County. That’s an amazing thing, amazing,” said Jones, who has been in Whatcom County for 10 years.

Cougar encounter

The state Department of Fish &Wildlife says few people will ever see a cougar, also known as a mountain lion, much less come face to face with one.

Here’s what you can do to protect yourself if you do:

<bullet>Hike in small groups and make noise to avoid surprising a cougar. Avoid hiking after dark.

<bullet>Keep small children in sight.

<bullet>Don’t approach dead animals, especially deer or elk, since they could be prey a cougar left for a later meal.

<bullet>If you encounter a cougar, stop and stand tall. Stand on a stump. Don’t run. Pick up small children. Try to appear larger than the cougar. Do not crouch or try to hide.

<bullet>If the cougar is aggressive, wave your arms or throw rocks. Try to convince the cougar you are not prey. Fight back aggressively. You can spray pepper spray in its face.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

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