A pod of five orca treated to sightseers to a "very special" encounter on the Hauraki Gulf yesterday.
The pod of two calves, two females and a male spent about 20 minutes around the tour group with Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari.
Marine research and conservation officer Catherine Lea said while she was not on board at the time she heard it was a "very special" encounter for all of those on board.
"They are an endangered species and we don't see them all of the time, so even the crew were really stoked to get to see them. Everybody loves orca and seeing them is on many bucket lists, so I can guarantee pretty much everybody would have loved it."
The pod spent the majority of their time foraging, but came over to check out the passengers and boat with the calves feeling a little playful and breaching and "spy-hopping out of the water".
"Just like humans they have personalities and moods, like all whales and dolphins, with some more inquisitive than others, especially the younger ones.
"Often when we see them they will just be foraging, some times they will be more friendly and come and check out the boat. It is pretty rare to see them up and out of the water like that, though."
Lea said they saw orca on about 10 per cent of their trips, or about 30 times a year.
"The northeast coast of New Zealand has the most sightings in the country. They are not seasonal and we see them throughout the year."
According to the Department of Conservation, New Zealand is home to an estimated 150–200 orca, which travel long distances throughout the country's coastal waters.
They prefer deeper water, but can be found in shallow bays and estuaries, and in inland seas.
Historically, orca were targeted by fishers for human consumption but no significant hunting occurs today.
Nowadays, one of the greatest potential impacts is likely to be disturbance caused by vessel traffic.
The presence of boats is known to disrupt the normal behaviour of these animals, particularly resting, and underwater noise may disrupt echolocation signals and other communication.
Lea said it was important for people take care for orca if they see them in the water, and follow the DoC guidelines for sharing the coast with marine mammals.
Generally people should not disturb, harass or make loud noises near marine mammals.
Any contact should be ceased if they show signs of becoming disturbed.
Any sudden or repeated changes in speed or direction of any vessel or aircraft near a marine mammal should be avoided, and there should be no more than three vessels and/or aircraft within 300m of any marine mammal.