Marine enthusiast Nathan Pettigrew was kayaking near Rabbit Island when he noticed a large dorsal fin pop up in front of him.

A pod of seven orca was heading towards him. They travelled close to shore near Moturiki (Leisure) Island and Rabbit Island before heading towards Mauao, capturing the attention of crowds people.

Nathan Pettigrew is nuts about the Tauranga Harbour and marine life but his most recent encounter has sparked upset. Photo/file
Nathan Pettigrew is nuts about the Tauranga Harbour and marine life but his most recent encounter has sparked upset. Photo/file

Mr Pettigrew's close encounter got even closer when a curious juvenile orca swam underneath his kayak.

''They are just amazing animals,'' he said.

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Mr Pettigrew is often on the water and regularly encounters orca and other marine life. He uses his footage and experience to give educational talks to children at local primary schools.

Mr Pettigrew is also one of a handful of people in New Zealand to hold a permit from the Department of Conservation (DoC) which allows him to get close to orca.

However, his proximity to the whales sparked concern from onlookers at the Mount who called DoC.

''I can appreciate it probably didn't look good. I can see how people would be concerned. Obviously a lot of people don't realise I have a permit so a few people phoned DoC, which is actually really cool because it shows that they care,'' he said.

''People are becoming more aware of rules and regulation. Generally, you can't get too close.''

Under the Marine Mammals Protection Regulations 1992 (external site) it is an offence to swim within 100 metres of a whale. Vessels, without a permit, are not allowed to get within 50m. The penalty for breaching these rules is $10,000.

Mr Pettigrew's permit means he is exempt from these rules.

Staff from the DoC followed up on the complaints by contacting Mr Pettigrew to ask if he was with the pod.

Mr Pettigrew said he planned to meet with the department to work through any issues.

When sharing the ocean with orca


- Do not swim within 100m of a killer whale/orca.


- Your vessel should not be within 50m of a killer whale.


- There should be no more than three vessels within 300m of any marine mammal, additional vessels may watch from 300m.


- Your vessel should approach orca from behind and to the side.


- Do not circle them, obstruct their path or cut through any group.


- Operate your boat slowly and quietly at ''no wake'' speed when within 300m of a killer whale.


- Avoid sudden noises that could startle the animals.


Source - Department of Conservation