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Moko the dolphin had serious competition for the friendliest sea creature title yesterday as two orcas swam close to a Gisborne beach to hang out with a class of divers.
Adventure Dive Gisborne students with instructor Jim Kahukoti were heading out for an afternoon dive navigation session when a huge orca and calf swam into a reef channel.
The bigger whale, a male and at least seven metres long with a metre-and-a-half dorsal fin, swam so close that Mr Kahukoti was able to reach out and touch it.
"It was the highlight of my diving career," he said after spending several minutes in the water with the big mammal.
"I have done close to 3000 scuba dives and I have never come that close to an orca, certainly never close enough to touch it."
Mr Kahukoti and his group were heading out through the channel when they saw a large fin coming along the reef.
"I was thinking awesome, thinking this was great. I was more excited than nervous but I wasn't expecting it to come into the channel and come that close. Man, it was amazing.
"It kind of swam in and rolled on to its side and looked at me with one eye. I reached out to touch it and it swam off.
"It felt smooth and slimy but being there with it felt spiritual ... it was such a powerful creature and you could feel that."
The orca and its calf, which appeared only a metre and half long, left the group shortly after and headed across the bay.
Department of Conservation ranger Jamie Quirk said the large bull would have been teaching the calf to hunt stingray.
It was normal to see pods of orca whales on the region's coastline during October but this pod seemed a little late.
While stingrays were on the menu yesterday, Moko the dolphin made sure he kept out of harm's way, he said.
"Moko was out with surfers at Makorori yesterday morning but he must have heard the orca coming because he took off before they came by."
Meanwhile, Moko's antics yesterday were responsible for a full-scale marine alert at Gisborne's Wainui Beach.
Coastguard, Wainui Surf Lifesaving Club and police were alerted to a young surfer reported to be stranded 500 metres offshore after the bottlenose dolphin stole his surfboard.
The cheeky dolphin took 16-year-old Jack Britain's surfboard and started playing with it about 10m away from him.
Witnesses said when the surfer tried to swim to shore, Moko would "tease him" - swimming up to him with the board but pulling away when he tried to grab it.
Gisborne Coastguard launched its rescue vessel, lifeguards launched an IRB and the surfer and surfboard were retrieved.