Sailor, a yellow Labrador retriever, had quite a thrilling sight when a pod of orca whales passed by his family's boat in the waters of the San Juan Islands off Washington state.

Kate and Jaycee Butler filmed the encounter, and had as much excitement as Sailor himself:

“He didn’t bark throughout this whole encounter, and Sailor barks at everything,” Kate Butler told GrindTV. “We’ve been coming out here almost every day, every summer for 40 years, and we don’t think we’ll ever see anything like this again,” Jaycee Butler said.

These were no ordinary orcas, either. The whale making a splash is named Skagit, a mother of four with two grandkids, as identified by Melisa Pinnow of the Center for Whale Research — all important members of a small and endangered population of orcas, called Southern resident killer whales. This is the only population of whales listed as endangered, and it's made up of three pods of about 80 whales. One of the more famous members of the pod is J2, or Granny, who is the oldest known killer whale in the world at the ripe old age of about 103.

Orca whales are intelligent, curious, playful animals but even so, not every whale-watcher gets such an intimate experience. An up-close encounter with a whale clearly as curious about you as you are of her is something particularly special. And Sailor seems to know it.

Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.