‘What the hell is that?!’ Sean said, looking from his vantage point on the couch towards the ocean.
The ocean was just across the road from the Paekakariki holiday cottage we’d booked for Wellington Anniversary weekend. I’d just come in from outside. It was getting dusky, and the breeze was getting cold, but before I closed the door on the sound of the sea I wanted to spend a bit more time on the deck, watching the waves. But somehow I’d missed it.
‘There was a giant black fin sticking out of the sea,’ he said.
We went outside and before too long we saw another fin, and then a couple more, breaking the surface of the water. Orcas! Judging by the cars that started arriving, other people had noticed them too and were phoning all their friends.
We were treated to quite a show as at least four orcas (it was hard to tell how many, as they kept disappearing and reappearing) meandered their way up the coast towards Raumati. Hopeful of another look, we followed them up the beach, but they were gone. All I had to prove we saw them was a rather bad picture I took on my phone.
It was a strange week for large sea mammals on the Kapiti Coast – a few days before a 15-metre-long sperm whale had stranded and died on Paraparaumu Beach. I’m not sure whether orcas are commonly found around this area, though according to Te Ara (which I, of course, consulted to enrich my paltry knowledge about orcas) 15 stranded at Paraparumu in 1955. Fortunately the ones I saw didn’t suffer that same fate.
When I told a friend about seeing the orcas, she was surprised as she was used to seeing them off the Hawke’s Bay coast during childhood. Apparently, again according to Te Ara, you are ‘most likely to see them are off the Bay of Plenty, East Cape and Hawke’s Bay regions in June, and again from October to December.’ But obviously that isn’t their exclusive domain. In fact three separate groups of orcas live around New Zealand: one off the North Island, one off the South Island and a third group that spends its time in both regions.
Back in the day (i.e. my childhood) orcas were always called ‘killer whales’. That’s discouraged now because not only are they not killers – well not of humans (there haven’t been any reports of orcas attacking humans), though they do kill and eat a great many other creatures – they are not even whales. They actually belong to the dolphin family. They’re the biggest dolphin though, and are of a similar size to the smaller whales. In this footage of an orca pod swimming beside a ship, it’s easy to see their dolphinishness (which should be a word, even if it isn’t) as they glide up and down through the waves.