Orca unlikely to have attacked diver, says expert

By Lindy Laird -
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Orca expert and rescue founder Dr Ingrid Visser with an orca in Whangarei Harbour some years ago. Photo/Michael Cunningham
Orca expert and rescue founder Dr Ingrid Visser with an orca in Whangarei Harbour some years ago. Photo/Michael Cunningham

An expert on marine animals is sceptical about reports of an orca grabbing a free diver's catch bag and dragging him underwater until the rope became free.

Whale rescue co-founder, Far North-based Jo Halliday said it was not unheard of for such an incident to occur but she doubted it was a case of "whale attacks man".

Levi Gavin, who was diving for kina and crayfish two weeks ago at Horahora estuary, on the coast east of Whangarei, said he was dragged beneath the water for about 40 seconds after the orca grabbed the catch bag tied to his right arm.

Mr Gavin described being down to his "last breath" in a death spiral, and trying to relax to conserve his breath as the huge creature dragged him deeper and deeper.

"I went to go open my eyes but all I could see was little white bubbles so I just closed my eyes and tried not to use my energy because then I use up my breath," he is reported saying.

"I got to my last breath. I couldn't really think at the time."

When the rope became undone, Mr Gavin was able to surface, where his cousin helped him to stay afloat while he caught his breath. Mr Gavin said he saw a float from his catch bag pop to the surface nearby before going straight back down as the orca dived deeper and moved away.

Ms Halliday said it was unlikely the whale attacked the diver.

"I'm wondering if that animal has clipped the line between the bag and the man. If that guy was free diving it might have been a fairly long line," Ms Halliday said.

"I think it's been a pure accident and not an attack of any kind. I'd say the animal has panicked from the feel of the line and the man got dragged along with it.

Ms Halliday said with Mr Gavin seeing the bag's float to the surface then disappear again there was a real concern the orca could still have the line attached.

There were many incidents of orca and other marine animals becoming fatally tangled with crayfish buoys or other lines, she said.

On Saturday a pod of orca was sighted at the Poor Knights Islands and yesterday further south in the Hauraki Gulf.

"So they're around at the moment," Ms Halliday said.

She asks that anyone seeing orca, and particularly any sign of them dragging lines or having them wrapped around them to report their whereabouts by contacting 0800 SEEORCA (0800 733 6722), 0800 SAVEWHALE or 0800 DOCHOT (0800 362 468).

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