Orca Make Lunchtime Raid on Rays of Whangateau

Three orca share an eagleray before passing southward under the causeway bridge.

Three orca share an eagleray before passing southward under the causeway bridge.

Visitors to Omaha yesterday were treated to a rare and spectacular sight of a pod of orca feeding on rays in Whangateau Harbour.  About 60 onlookers watched in awe from the Omaha causeway  bridge as six orca hunted rays in the shallows, ripping one apart before their eyes before cruising under the bridge and continuing their hunt in very shallow water south of the causeway.

An orca about to go under the causeway bridge to explore the southern shallows.

An orca about to go under the causeway bridge to explore the southern shallows.

 

This orca lost its dorsal fin when young and is very distinctive in this pod.

This orca lost its dorsal fin when young and is very distinctive in this pod.

The pod of orca is the same one seen and filmed in Kawau Bay in July this year by Steve Hathaway, underwater videographer from Snells Beach.  It includes a large male with a distinctive wiggly dorsal fin, and a young orca with its dorsal fin cut off, probably by entanglement in a fishing line.
I first noticed the orca just off the jetty by the Omaha boat ramp at around 1:30pm, cruising up the harbour amongst the moored boats, though others said they arrived in the harbour soon after midday.  I headed up to the causeway where people and cars were gathered to watch the spectacle.  After milling around north of the causeway, during which the occasional large flurry and splashing probably indicated they had caught a ray, they then slowly cruised under the bridge within a few metres of onlookers above, showing the big white underbelly of a dismembered ray being shared amongst three of the orca.
In the shallows on the western shore, at one point the largest orca must have been in no more than a metre of water and I could see he was struggling to keep his tail flaps maintaining forward motion.  More splashes and flurries indicated further encounters with rays, and one splash included fragments of a ray flying in the air!  There were juvenile black backed gulls following the orca, probably to pick up any crumbs.
The orca then slowly cruised back towards the bridge and two of them passed within three metres of my vantage point close to the water on the concrete abutment to the bridge.  At this point they were frustratingly close as my 300mm telephoto lens could not frame them!  That’s when I needed a wide angle lens!  But I got one shot of an orca passing the eastern abutment of the bridge across the other side of the channel.
The pod continued hunting down the channel so I returned to the Omaha boat ramp and jetty where they passed through the moored boats and within three metres of delighted visitors on the jetty pontoon.

An orca in my front yard!  The large male scraping his belly in the shallows.

An orca in my front yard! The large male scraping his belly in the shallows.

 

A flurry of spray as another eagleray bites the dust!

A flurry of spray as another eagleray bites the dust!

 

A young black backed gull hangs around for eagleray crumbs.

A young black backed gull hangs around for eagleray crumbs.

 

Heading back down the harbour again.

Heading back down the harbour again.

 

Passing under the bridge.

Passing under the bridge.

Vehicles and spectators on the causeway.  The cellphone cameras were out in force!

Vehicles and spectators on the causeway. The cellphone cameras were out in force!

 

Orca passing through the moored boats off the Omaha boat ramp and jetty.

Orca passing through the moored boats off the Omaha boat ramp and jetty.

 

Catching another eagleray as onlookers stand on the shore near the end of Omaha spit.

Catching another eagleray as onlookers stand on the shore near the end of Omaha spit.

 

A quick look around Tramcar Bay before heading out to sea.

A quick look around Tramcar Bay before heading out to sea.

I expected that was the last of the encounter but then noticed that instead of turning to head out to Omaha Bay, they diverted to the left and did a tour through Tramcar Bay before hugging the northern coast and passing Ti Point wharf before exiting the harbour entrance channel.
The whole visit to the harbour lasted over two hours.  Perhaps if they were satisfied with their meal they may return to Café Whangateau for lunch again sometime in the future.

Roger Grace
7 November, 2012

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