The value of the marine reserves have been illustrated by a rare humpback whale being seen in the Reotahi reserve in Whangarei Harbour feeding on sprats.

Whangarei orca expert Ingrid Visser was delighted to spend about two hours with the whale in the harbour on Sunday, but was disappointed at the behaviour of some "idiot" boaties who breached the rules when they approached the giant marine mammal.

Dr Visser said the whale was just the second humpback seen in Whangarei Harbour in living memory - the last was in October 2010 - and a sign that the Reotahi reserve was working by having more marine life around it to then attract larger marine life.

The call came through about 1.30pm on Sunday when residents at Mt Aubrey rang the 0800 SEE ORCA hotline to tell the whale expert that the humpback whale had entered the harbour.


Dr Visser and her team from the Orca Research Trust caught up with the whale - which was not the same one that came in 2010 - as it was tucking into mouthfuls of sprats in the Motukaroro Marine Reserve area, which is off the Reotahi foreshore.

"That shows the real value of marine reserves. Having a humpback whale, only the second in memory in the harbour, coming in to feed there is a great example of how successful marine reserves are," she said.

They spent about two hours watching the whale, which gave a number of people on the water and on shore a spectacular view, but some boaties earned Dr Visser's ire.

"The vast majority of people were cool and respectful, but there were two idiot boaties out there. One drove at the whale at full speed, forcing it to veer off at a 90 degree angle, while another sped over the top of it as it was diving," Dr Visser said.

"But the thing is, those that just stayed in the water had a much better experience as the whale was very curious and kept coming up to boats that were just staying where they were. When it went near Smugglers Cove there were some people on the rocks fishing who got a great view, but when people were being idiots in their boats it would go away."

Under the Marine Mammals Protection Act, breaking the rules around marine mammals can lead to a maximum penalty of up to two years' jail or a $100,000 fine.

Anybody who sees orca or any whale off the Northland coast can contact Dr Visser on 0800 SEE ORCA.