A ferry-load of Auckland commuters enjoyed a complimentary spot of whale watching with their fare when a couple of orcas popped up in the harbour this morning.
Birkenhead local David Callanan was on the city-bound ferry from Northcote Pt when the killer whales appeared.
"The pilot on the ferry let us know as we got on, to keep an eye out, as there were several orcas headed out of the harbour," he said.
"We saw them as soon as we left the terminal. We could see them coming from the west side of the Harbour Bridge."
As the ferry travelled under the bridge, the orcas cruised lazily alongside the boat.
Callanan said two or three of the whales frolicked in the waters under the bridge.
It looked like a mother and her calf, he said, though he couldn't be sure.
"Definitely there was one large one and a small one - that's what the pilot said to us."
It was the first time he had seen orca in the wild, and the Aucklander described the experience as "surreal".
"Everyone came over to my side of the ferry when they appeared," he said.
"They were clambering over one another to get a look."
"It was very cool."
Five things you didn't know about orca whales
• Female orca whales are known to live up to 80 or 90 years old, and males live for a maximum of 50-60 years.
• Despite the confusing name, the killer whale is actually the largest member of the dolphin family.
• New Zealand is home to 150-200 orca whales.
• Orcas are the only known cetaceans that regularly prey on other marine mammals - including squid, octopus and turtles.
• Under the Marine Mammals Protection Regulations 1992 act, it is an offence to swim within 100m of a whale.
Source: Department of Conservation