Why have pods of Orca been seen more often in Akaroa and Lyttelton Harbours lately?
Black Cat have been cruising around Akaroa Harbour since 1985 and the original skipper, Ron Bingham, recalls seeing Orca only 5 times from 1985 to 2006, a period of 21 years cruising. In the last 12 months alone we’ve seen pods on no fewer than 5 occasions in Akaroa or Lyttelton.
Orca are sometimes known as Killer whales but that’s only because they were sometimes known to actually hunt and kill large baleen whales, i.e. killer of whales. They are actually the classified as a dolphin! There are no known reports of Orca attacking humans in the wild. Though there have been some instances where Orca in captivity have killed or injured their trainers.
Ingrid Visser has been studying Orca in New Zealand for many years and has helped with stranding’s and her body of research has helped us to understand our Orca population. Ingrid has also swum with Orca in the wild; which must have been pretty exhilarating.
Orca are found in most of the world’s oceans. New Zealand Orca will eat most anything and we think that’s a clue as to why they are coming into the Banks Peninsula bays more often. It’s thought the preferred food for them are rays. Though of course Orca will attack dolphins, seals and penguins.
Local marine biologist Liz Slooten believes that the Orca may be attracted to the local Seal population in Akaroa especially to the seal pups. The population in Akaroa harbour has increased substantially in the last 10 years, and Orca may help to keep the population in check.
Liz also has a photo of a Hector’s dolphin which may have been attacked by an Orca, though it’s hard to tell and if anything it must have been a calf because of the smallish bite size and tooth marks.
Black Cat Cruises crew have also noticed Hector’s dolphins tend to get very nervous when Orca are in the area. They tend not to be relaxed enough to play with swimmers and boats and may stick close to the shoreline.
There are no seals in Lyttelton Harbour so they are definitely chasing something else. Co-incidentally there are lots of dolphins in the harbour but no one has seen the Orca going after them so it’s more likely they are chasing rays, squid or fish.
It sure is a great sight to see pods of Orca in the Banks Peninsula bays but for the sake of the local Hectors dolphins it’s also great to see them pass through.