Killer whales came close to Hawke's Bay shores yesterday - probably to lunch on stingrays.
Five of the sea creatures were seen off Perfume Point about 1pm, attracting spectators and giving a group of athletes training in the sea a fright.
Department of Conservation field officer Hans Rook said it was common for killer whales to follow stingrays into the bay at this time of year.
"When you get the warmer water and flat conditions you'll get stingrays coming up quite close and that's what they'll feed on," he said.
Crowds gathered along Hardinge Rd and at Perfume Point yesterday, as a pod of killer whales came close to shore.
"One [whale] will come in and sunbathe and the other ones will be sitting there and pick the stingrays up on the sonar and go, 'Yum, yum, yum', and pick them all up as they swim out."
Photographer John Cowpland said groups of up to 40 people gathered along Hardinge Rd and at Perfume Point in Ahuriri to catch a glimpse of the "family". "There was a really massive fin and then about three or four much smaller fins so you got the impression it was an adult with three or four young ones," he said. "The big one was obviously being quite protective."
He added that "a little group of guys training for surf life saving or Ironman or something" were out in the water and the whales had gone straight for them. The group had "hung around on a buoy until they disappeared".
But the whales were not interested in the swimmers, he said, but were "thrashing around quite a bit" when they did catch something.
"When the whales disappeared there were about six very quick swimmers to shore," Mr Cowpland said.
Mr Rook said it was uncommon for other types of whales to come close to shore unless they were sick or injured.
"Any other species, the deep-water stuff, if they are in shallow you have got to keep an eye on them."