A whale that has been loitering around the Comox Valley this week gave a group of paddleboarders the encounter of a lifetime.

Researchers say the transient killer whale normally resides in Alaska, but has been spotted in the Comox Harbour area all week – drawing crowds to boardwalks and beaches.

But Josie Boulding and her family were treated to an even closer display when they were out on the water outside of Royston Thursday night.

"My heart was just beating out of my chest because it was so close to me and just enormous," Boulding told CTV News Friday.

The orca surfaced just metres away from the group, who caught parts of the encounters on camera.

"That was like winning the lottery," she said. "We were pretty excited when we came back home and realized Paige had totally caught at least half the experience on camera."

There have been some concerns that the whale might be sick because it's been hanging around the area for so long.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and other experts have been monitoring the animal and say it appears to be doing well.

"It's a bit unusual to have an orca in this area, and an orca by itself for such a long period of time," said Bill Coltart of whale-watching tour company Big Animal Encounters. "Although the researchers do tell us that this guy has been known to request harbours and come in on his own before."

Naturalists in the area say they hope the whale is lingering because of abundant food sources transients are known to prey upon, like seals.

"Worrisome in some respects, I guess. We hope that he’s just here because he’s having a good buffet of seals and that there's no other things amiss with him, because it is unusual to see him locked into one area," said marine naturalist Chris Johnson.

Transient orcas are different from the fish-eating southern resident orcas usually seen off B.C.'s South Coast in that they prey upon small mammals and have quite different hunting styles.

While resident killer whales use echolocation to hunt, transients silently stalk their prey to avoid being detected.