An orca expert has praised recreational fishermen who saved an exhausted young orca in Hawke's Bay after it tangled itself in a cray pot line.
The orca, believed to be about 6 years old, was freed off the coast of Waipatiki about 5pm on Wednesday, while another orca nuzzled it during the rescue operation.
Orca Research Trust founder Dr Ingrid Visser said the orca likely put its tail on the cray pot line or pushed the attached buoy underwater, causing the line to wrap around its tail.
"Young orca often get entangled by playing with the buoys attached to cray pot lines," she said.
"It's not uncommon for orcas, whales and dolphins to lie there and accept help like this. But, there are plenty of examples where whales thrash around and people can get hurt."
But Visser said the fisherman, who wished not to be named, should be commended for saving the animal's life.
"The guys did everything right. It was perfect weather conditions, clear water to see the cray pot line, the animal was placid," she added. "But it's not something to be done willy-nilly - you have to be very careful."
A small pod of orca, believed to be between four or five, were spotted nearby, with what is believed to be the juvenile's mother by the tangled orca's side throughout the five-minute ordeal.
Whale Watch Hawke's Bay said the unusual behaviour of the orca alerted the crew of the fishing boat to the fact that "something just wasn't right".
"They were able to hook up the line and began cutting it off. During this time the young orca remained passively floating at the surface," they said.
"It if wasn't for the immediate response from this team, the orca would likely have drowned as the line was securely wrapped around the tail stock and tail fluke and there is no way that the orca would have been able to free itself."
Visser said when entangled, orcas tend to struggle to get to the surface as the tide goes up and the line goes shorter, making it hard for the animal to get to the surface.
"Having spoken to the guys who released the whale, they said the animal was 'exhausted'. The adult, most likely its mum, very gently nudges up against the orca, giving reassurance," she said.
"Orcas tend to lie there quietly because they're exhausted and try to preserve energy."
Visser asked the public to help protect orca by ensuring that cray pot lines are as short as possible to reduce the chances of entanglement.
She is also seeking any photos or video of orca from that day to help monitor the family. Sightings can be reported to 0800 SEE ORCA.