DoC frowns on surfer's moment with Southern right whale

A Dunedin surfer's "once-in-a-lifetime experience" may land him in hot water after he touched a Southern right whale off Second Beach yesterday.

Dunedin men Sam Todd and Craig Latta paddled out to two 7m-long Southern right whales off the beach on a surfboard and a paddleboard about 11am yesterday, enjoying an "amazing" encounter with the huge mammals.

Todd got particularly close, touching one of the whales for several seconds before it swung its tail, splashing water in his direction.

"I ... left my board in the water and floated on top of one of them and touched one with both hands and that was pretty awesome," he said.

"A once-in-a-lifetime experience, I'd say. Not many people in the world get a chance to have an experience like this one and for it to happen in little old Dunedin, it's pretty special."

He held no fears for his safety during the encounter.

"It flicked its tail at me ... but it was nothing to worry about."

Latta said the whales were curious and as he tried to keep his distance they followed his paddleboard.

"They were obviously happy, just inquisitive," he said.

While the pair were in awe of the experience, the Department of Conservation is not impressed.

The department's guidelines advise people to keep at least 50m from whales and at least 200m from a mother and calf, DoC operations manager Annie Wallace said.

"While it's really good people are seeing these whales ... they shouldn't be disturbing them," she said.

The department was concerned Todd's interaction with the whale might "disturb the wildlife and change their behaviour and cause them to be affected by this", she said.

DoC would have preferred the encounter was not publicised, saying: "I would much prefer you didn't print that he touched the whale".

Commercial operators can apply for a permit to swim and dive with marine mammals. Such a permit is estimated to cost $1540 plus GST, according to DoC's website.

When asked if DoC was looking at prosecuting either of the pair, Wallace replied: "I'm not going to comment on the legal side of it".

Latta said he was unaware of the guidelines and there was no ill intent on behalf of the pair in the water.

"I kept trying to paddle and [the whales] kept closing the distance," he said.

"It was just great to be out there and that they let us go so close. They wanted us to be close.

"For us it was quite amazing."

- Otago Daily Times

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