Orca encounter 'magical' experience (+video)

By Patrick O'Sullivan -
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A drive in the rain to escape cabin fever in the family bach over the long weekend resulted in a "magical" experience for Jane Tarrant.

Driving on Mahia Peninsula with daughter Niamh on Saturday the Napier structural engineer spied a large black fin "that stood out like a sore thumb" close to rocks near Whangawehi Stream.

"I saw it surfacing and pulled over and started filming it," she said.

She stopped the car and they both filmed in the rain.

"The fin was about 2m high and I thought at first it was a hoax. Being so close to the shore I thought it was a diver with a fin on its back."

Her family have had the bach since 1969 and she said she had never seen an orca before.

"It was very exciting - I tried to contain myself.

"It wasn't so much just seeing a whale, it was the fact it was so close.

"The water was very clear so you could see the whole whale, whereas on the video you only see the fin.

"It was somewhat a magical experience because it was raining and it was just us - just me and my daughter and a big whale literally just 5m away from us."

Niamh was unimpressed with the recording of her mother's reaction.

"We got back in the car and Niamh deleted hers straight away - she was embarrassed I made such a fuss."

"She had not grasped what a rare sight it was.

"She just said, 'It's a whale in the sea, Mum.'

"I said, 'It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.'"

She shared the video on Facebook and it has had more than 15000 views thanks to media picking up her story.

Orca Research Trust founder and principal scientist Dr Ingrid Visser said the orca looked to be Mr Eleven, a 30-year-old that earned his name because of two marks on his dorsal fin.

She said he was probably patrolling for sting rays. He usually travelled with a pod of 12 orcas but "like all orca he can communicate over a 12km distance at least".

"We might not visually notice there are other orca around but acoustically he is in touch with the others of his group."

When orcas caught a ray they typically shook their heads to rip it apart, she said.

"Also they often carry the rays over to somebody else and they food share."

She said the New Zealand orca, which could live to about 90 years old, fed on fish with a cartilaginous skeleton such as rays, sharks and skates.

Until contacted by Hawke's Bay Today Dr Visser was unaware of the Mahia video and asked people to call 0800 SEE ORCA (0800 733 6722) if any orca were sighted.

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