Beautiful footage has been captured of a pod of orca in Tauranga Harbour.

Marine life photographer and educator Nathan Pettigrew said the pod of about 12 orca that visited this week included four calves and juveniles.

Pettigrew, who has a marine mammal permit from the Department of Conservation that allows him to get closer than most, says he saw the pod off Mauao and Ferguson Park.

Nathan Pettigrew holds a marine mammal permit from the Department of Conservation. Photo/supplied
Nathan Pettigrew holds a marine mammal permit from the Department of Conservation. Photo/supplied

The orca were feeding on a buffet of eagle rays, which are common in the harbour.

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"Some of these rays were leaping out of the water in an attempt to get away from the orcas' jaws," Pettigrew said.

"The large group of orca were split up into about three smaller pods and while some were feeding, another group of five were sleeping.

"They were making sure to keep the calf in the middle of the group for the youngster's protection."

Nathan Pettigrew holds a marine mammal permit from the Department of Conservation. Photo/supplied
Nathan Pettigrew holds a marine mammal permit from the Department of Conservation. Photo/supplied

Pettigrew recognised a few of the adults including a big male nicknamed Round Top for his distinctive dorsal fin.

Pickle, who has half a dorsal fin and who Pettigrew has tracked since 2010, was also there with her big brother Funky Monkey.

Pickle was less curious than usual, Pettigrew said.

"I guess she's getting older."

He praised the boaties he saw while with the orca for keeping their distance and leaving them to feed.

While he was allowed to get close in his kayak to identify the orca - of which there are only about 100 left in New Zealand - boats needed to stay at least 50 metres away.

Pettigrew said he knew of one orca that had twice been hit by boats.

"The channel is full of 'fingers' and we have to be sure not to get in the way, especially on lower tides."

Slowing down was also vital.

"Communication is transmitted among the pod through sound, which is why it is crucial that we slow our boats down to 5 knots within 300 metres of any whale or dolphin.

"Before motor boats, sound was never an issue for these animals and every day their world is getting louder and louder."

Pettigrew believed the pod had been on their way out of the harbour when he saw them on Wednesday.