A regular ocean swimmer had the "best day" of his life this morning when a couple of friendly orca from a passing pod came to say hello.
Tauranga man Steve Morris was swimming around Mauao this morning with a group of other swimmers when two orca came close to them as they swam towards the harbour.
"It was pretty much the best day of my life this morning," he said.
The regular ocean swimmer said he had seen orca in the distance while swimming a couple of times, but this was the first time they had come so close.
"It's pretty epic, something I've been dreaming about, really."
He said there were people walking along Mauao base track that the swimmers called out too to tell them to have a look.
When Morris first saw an orca while out swimming, he said it "really freaked me out".
Since then, his love for the marine animals has grown, doing his own research on the creatures, and learning they are no threat to people.
"It's still unnerving," he said of the two orca that broke away from the pod of about eight.
He followed the Whale and Dolphin Watch New Zealand group on Facebook and said he believed the orca he saw was Funky Monkey, with a distinct, wavy fin, in the distance.
The two that "came to say hello" were from his pod.
A spokesman from the Department of Conservation said there are regulations around interacting with marine mammals which he said, in a nutshell, are about people not approaching them.
"In this case, the orca could clearly choose whether or not they wanted to be there and the swimmer's actions in not trying to interact were spot on."
The Marine Mammals Protection Regulations 1992 list the conditions governing behaviour around marine mammals, and seals, sea lions, dolphins and whales are protected under this.
It's an offence to harass, disturb, injure or kill marine mammals, and those found to breach the regulations face a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment or a fine to a maximum of $250,000.
Rules for interacting with marine animals
• Stay at least 50 m away from any whale
• Stay at least 200 m away from any baleen or sperm whale mother and calf
• Do not swim with whales