Nikki Preston

Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

A whale of a fisherman's tale

Robbie Lewis with his world record 147kg southern bluefin tuna caught on a 60kg line. He reckons the orca weighed two tonnes. Photo / Gisborne Herald
Robbie Lewis with his world record 147kg southern bluefin tuna caught on a 60kg line. He reckons the orca weighed two tonnes. Photo / Gisborne Herald

A Gisborne skipper who holds the bluefin tuna world record thought he was hallucinating when an orca surfaced and bit a tuna lure.

But Robbie Lewis, 40, has the footage to show it happened and prove that fishermen spent an exhausting 45 minutes trying to free the mammal.

Mr Lewis, 40, and three friends - Charlie Destounis, Marie Roberts and Rob Page - were competing in the Tatapouri Fishing Club's Marlin and Tuna Hunt on Saturday at Tuahine Rise. But suddenly the tuna they had been teasing disappeared and were replaced with a pod of five orcas circling the pointer boat C Crazy 2. One orca became fixated on the lure, baited with five squid, and began jumping in and out of the water. On the fourth jump it opened its mouth and ate the lure.

"I'd had a few Red Bulls and I thought I was seeing things," Mr Lewis said. Last year he caught a world record 147kg southern bluefin tuna on a 60kg line but he hadn't expected to hook a whale - which he estimated was much heavier at more than two tonnes.

After the orca grabbed the line, the skipper began turning the boat in circles to try to bring the whale up and reel in the line while Mr Destounis held on tight.

The whale then dived, taking 800m of line.

When they had managed to reel the line back, the whale dived again.

The ordeal was captured on film by one of Mr Lewis' crewmates.

"The line was smoking hot but standing up to the challenge of fighting the big mammal," Mr Lewis said.

Finally after 45 minutes the orca gnawed through the line and it swam away with just the hook and lure in its mouth.

"The lure lost is the lure which would have fallen out of his mouth and it would have just had a little hook in it."

Department of Conservation marine mammals expert Laura Boren said it was unusual for an orca to attack a lure.

"In terms of taking a hook that's something I have not heard of before. In places where humans and marine mammals overlap there's always a chance for interaction. I wouldn't expect to see more happening but I don't know if I would be able to say it's a one-off."

Ms Boren commended the fisherman for their efforts to try to avoid further entanglement.

- NZ Herald

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