Scientific Study

Orca Whales in Taranaki: How can we protect them?

With Orca sightings become more and more common in New Plymouth, how can we help the whale population become sustainable in Taranaki Waters?

It’s nothing new seeing Orca whales pondering through our renown Taranaki waters, and when they do, residents quickly become ecstatic at the news of the sighting and travel down to the coastline just for a glimpse of the magnificent mammal. Orca prefer deep water, but often come in closer to shore to feed on stingray, (commonly found along our rocky coastline). If you’re lucky, you can experience Orcas feeding on stingray! They hunt and kill their prey by grabbing the stingrays, flipping them upside down, paralysing them, and then eating their livers.


DOC encourages residents who happen to be in the water when Orcas appear to be gentle, and to not chase the animal, but actually let the Orca come to you. Under the marine mammal’s protection regulations 2002, it is actually illegal to swim within 100 meters of an Orca whale. This is due to safety concerns and protection purposes of the whales. The penalty for breaching the regulations can reach up to a $10,000 fine! In addition to swimming, it is an offence to harass, disturb, injure, or kill marine mammals, which is a given. The penalty for infringing this offence is a maximum of two year’s imprisonment or a fine of up to $250,000. However, it still pays to show respect around these animals. Remember that if a whale approaches you (which is highly likely in Taranaki if you’re a surfer), be gentle and do not attempt to harass the mammal. There have only been several cases of injury and death caused by killer whales, most occurring in captivity. So as for the odds of being attacked by an Orca in our waters, there’s really nothing to worry about.

Furthermore, if you’re lucky enough to see a pod Orca Whales swimming in our waters, how can you properly identify them? Otherwise known as the Orcinus orca, a killer whale can be identified by its un-missable black and white markings along it’s body, this is the main characteristic most people use to identify the whale. They also hold a very tall and prominent dorsal fin. In the wild, Orcas can grow up to 9m in length! In terms of the sexes, females and males differ in that males are longer and bulkier than females and females have smaller, more curved dorsal fins, and smaller flippers.

New Zealand is home to an estimated 150–200 Orca Whales. Those of which travel extensive lengths throughout the country’s coastal waters. Experts are beginning to understand that Orca throughout the world have different personalities and actually adapt to life wherever they are situated, much like humans do. Orca are typically encountered in family groups called pods. Orcas will generally stay in their pods for life, raising their young and swimming alongside them until they mature, therefore continuing the life cycle.

Follow these rules when sharing the ocean with orca.

  • Do not swim within 100 m of a killer whale/orca.
  • If you see any while in a boat/other vessel, do not be within 50 meters of the whale.
  • Do not circle Orcas, obstruct their path or cut through any group.
  • Operate your boat slowly and quietly at ‘no wake’ speed when within 300 m of a killer whale.
  • Avoid sudden noises that could startle the animals.
  • Be sure to experience the magnificence of these stunning creatures!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s