A couple of weeks ago, my wife woke me up just before seven when she returned from her run, simply buzzing! She had been running along the Nelson waterfront when she heard a huffing and puffing sound. She looked around and saw a couple of dolphins swimming towards the sea wall. But these dolphins got larger and larger as they approached the surface and their dorsal fins got higher and higher! It was an adult orca accompanied by a youngster.
Suddenly there was a huge commotion, a massive flurry in the water and next thing a very large stingray leapt out of the water, crashing into the sea wall not far from where she was standing. It looked up at her but must have decided that she presented a much smaller risk so stayed there, remaining close to the sea wall, caressing it with one fin. It very carefully and quietly cruised up and down in one of the very few shallow patches to be found at that state of the tide. The two orcas tried to follow it in but the water was too shallow. Eventually they swam back out to sea and Kirsty and the other awe-struck jogger continued their morning run. At their closest, Kirsty estimated that the orcas came within about 4 m of her. Quite an experience!
It’s very easy to understand why the conservation professionals describe them as “charismatic megafauna”.
But they did not quite head out to sea, as it turned out. Around nine o’clock I headed off on an errand, only to find bumper-to-bumper traffic all along the waterfront. There were literally hundreds of people there, plus a couple of traffic cops urging the rubberneckers on. The crowds had dissipated by the time I came back 45 minutes later. The local newspaper ran the story on their front page the next day along with three or four (rather inadequate) photographs. If I had thought to go down with my 300mm … oh well.
It is not the first time of course that we have seen orcas in and around the Nelson Harbour. We live on the Port Hills, overlooking the harbour and Haulashore Island. A few years back we were alerted by a ultra-brief phone call from our neighbour down in front of our house: “get out – orca!” We rushed outside onto the verandah.
There were two adult orca and three young, cruising up and down along Haulashore Island, looking for skate. We couldn’t get over the sound when they slapped the water with their tails, a loud boom, not like a splash at all. On another occasion diners at the cafe on the waterfront below our house were surprised and delighted to see large fins cruising past, just a few meters away.