Amazing Orca Encounter for New Year and Birthday Treat

The large male orca Funky Monkey has a very large but distinctly wiggly dorsal fin.

The large male orca Funky Monkey has a very large but distinctly wiggly dorsal fin.

Visitors and residents at Omaha and Whangateau had the most amazing encounter with a pod of orca on New Years day.  But the day also had a special difference, with an air of deja-vu.

Omaha boat ramp users may recognize Amadis, a 40-foot yacht moored off the Omaha boat ramp, with a distinctive graphic of a hammerhead shark on the bow.  Amadis is owned by Lily Kozmian-Ledward, a Masters student at the Leigh Marine Laboratory studying Bryde’s whales and other marine megafauna in the Hauraki Gulf.

Lily’s yacht Amadis has a distinctive hammerhead shark drawing on the bow.

Lily’s yacht Amadis has a distinctive hammerhead shark drawing on the bow.

The first of January is Lily’s birthday.  It also happens to be the birthday of Kirsten Rodgers, Ph.D. student at the marine lab, and (as it happens), my own.  Partly to celebrate these three birthdays, but also just because it was New Years day, Lily invited several student friends from the marine lab and a few others for an afternoon out in Omaha Bay, for a bit of snorkeling, and general New Year food and fun.

Last year on the same day Lily had run into a pod of orca just outside Whangateau Harbour, and had watched as they went just inside the harbour then turned around and went out again.  This time, while eating lunch anchored out of the northerly wind on the southern side of Ti Point, as a massive thunderstorm passed over Tamahunga and Warkworth and dumped a bit of rain on the yacht, we jokingly discussed the possibility of orca turning up again.

Viewed from nearly front on the wiggle in Funky Monkey’s dorsal is very obvious.

Viewed from nearly front on the wiggle in Funky Monkey’s dorsal is very obvious.

When the rain eased Lily poked her head out of the cockpit and there he was!  Less than 50 metres away was the distinctive tall wiggly dorsal fin of Funky Monkey, a large male orca well known in the Hauraki Gulf and Northland coast.  At the same spot and on precisely the same day as last year!

The orca male hung around the yacht for about 15 minutes, surfacing repeatedly to the delight of the photographers on the boat.  Soon he moved off toward the harbour entrance and we followed in the yacht.  He went just inside the harbour and by this time several small boats had gathered to watch.  Then we saw a few more orca following the large male into the harbour.  He had apparently checked out the area then signaled the others to come in too.

Orca pod leaving Whangateau after being harassed too much by boats.

Orca pod leaving Whangateau after being harassed too much by boats.

Whether the six or so small boats became too much for the orca or they just decided to leave we may never know, but all six orca soon turned and passed out through the narrow harbour entrance, some slapping their tails noisily on the water surface perhaps as a sign of annoyance at the boats some of which had got too close.

This boat got way too close to the orca in the Whangateau entrance channel.

This boat got way too close to the orca in the Whangateau entrance channel.

Tail slapping is a clear sign that the orca were getting annoyed by the close boats.

Tail slapping is a clear sign that the orca were getting annoyed by the close boats.

The same boat persisted in driving too close to Nibbles and Funkey Monkey.

The same boat persisted in driving too close to Nibbles and Funkey Monkey.

In Amadis we followed the orca pod across Omaha Bay toward Tawharanui, where they entered the marine reserve and we finally broke off the encounter and returned to the Omaha boat ramp.

One young orca in this pod has half of its dorsal missing and is named Nibbles.

One young orca in this pod has half of its dorsal missing and is named Nibbles.

In addition to Funkey Monkey, there was also a distinctive young orca with the top half of its dorsal fin missing, and at least one juvenile orca in the group.

A calf snuggles up to its mother.

A calf snuggles up to its mother.

That was such an amazing orca encounter, and a fitting New Year’s and birthday treat to be treasured.  Questions remain as to how a pod of orca turned up at the same spot precisely one year to the day from the previous visit.  Was this a complete coincidence, or have the orca some means of knowing to turn up at the same time and place one year later?  Biology and animal behaviour still have many mysteries.

Comments

  1. excellent piece, Roger Grace!

  2. Hello Harbourcare. [Thanks roger]. What a great set of images, something other than Boats and Fishermen going out to sea. But it took a bit of [not taking it personally] for me not to wish a Coronary Acclusion on the Snoopy boat driver and his Tropy Bird.Keep up the good work. FaLen.

  3. Christine Rose says:

    Thanks Roger, great photos. Shame about ignorant boaties hassling the Orca and fishing in the Marine Reserve. -Something I’ve also witnessed there. Interestingly, Orca showed up on the same date a year apart near Mt Maunganui in early Summer. Do they keep a calendar??

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