Key Points:

Who needs a plastic model when the real thing comes calling?

These elegant orcas brought an abrupt end to a demonstration of how to save a beached whale when they cruised past Mt Maunganui's Main Beach yesterday.

Star of the demonstration - part of Seaweek at Mt Maunganui - was a blow-up plastic replica of an orca.

But it was quickly forgotten when the real orcas dropped in.

Many of the hundreds of people at the beach ran to the water's edge to catch a glimpse of the creatures, which came within 30m of shore.

The pod of about half a dozen orcas glided around rocks on Moturiki (Leisure Island).

Lifesavers paddled out on surfboards for a close look at them, and a surf club inflatable boat tailed them until they reached the Tay St surf area, about 1km south of Main Beach.

Orcas are not uncommon in the area, especially at this time of year, and sometimes come into Tauranga Harbour in search of food.

They forage along the sandy floor for stingrays - New Zealand orcas are the only known orca group that eats stingrays as a staple food.

Orcas, also known as killer whales, also eat other food such as fish, squid, dolphins, sharks and seals.