Waitemata¯ Harbour encounter thrills boat’s tour group
Apod of five orcas treated sightseers to a “very special” encounter on the Hauraki Gulf. The pod of two calves, two females and a male spent about 20 minutes around the tour group with Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari.
Marine research and conservation officer Catherine Lea said while she was not on board at the time she heard it was a “very special” encounter for all of those on board.
“They are an endangered species and we don’t see them all of the time, so even the crew were really stoked to get to see them. Everybody loves orca and seeing them is on many bucket lists, so I can guarantee pretty much everybody would have loved it.”
The pod spent the majority of their time foraging, but came over to check out the passengers and boat with the calves feeling a little playful and breaching and “spy-hopping out of the water”.
“Just like humans they have personalities and moods, like all whales and dolphins, with some more inquisitive than others, especially the younger ones.
“Often when we see them they will just be foraging, sometimes they will be more friendly and come and check out the boat. It is pretty rare to see them up and out of the water like that, though.”
Lea said they saw orcas on about 10 per cent of their trips, or about 30 times a year.
“The northeast coast of New Zealand has the most sightings in the country. They are not seasonal and we see them throughout the year.”
According to the Department of Conservation, New Zealand is home to an estimated 150 to 200 orcas, which travel long distances throughout the country’s coastal waters.
They prefer deeper water, but can be found in shallow bays and estuaries, and in inland seas.
Historically, orcas were targeted by fishers for consumption but no significant hunting occurs today.
Nowadays, one of the greatest potential impacts is likely to be disturbance caused by vessel traffic.
The presence of boats is known to disrupt the normal behaviour of these animals, particularly resting, and underwater noise may disrupt echolocation signals and other communication.
Lea said it was important people care for orcas if they see them in the water, and follow the DoC guidelines for sharing the coast with marine mammals.
Generally people should not disturb, harass or make loud noises near marine mammals. Contact should stop if animals appear disturbed.
The playful younger members of the pod cheekily checked out the sightseers near Auckland’s North Shore.