Wednesday, April 02, 2014

What Not To Do When Encountering An Orca

While the video embedded below is spectacular footage of an orca, it is the exact wrong thing to do when encountering whales and orcas.
A fellow on an SUP encountered a baby orca off of Auckland, New Zealand and he quickly paddled towards it. He jumped into the water to get an underwater shot and that's when mommy orca came by and guided the youngster away.

How close is too close when you encounter whales?
Fisheries and Environment Canada recommend that vessels (and that includes kayaks) should stay a minimum 100 metres away from whales. Don't approach from in front or behind, only from the sides.

But what about New Zealand regs? They seem a little looser:
When boating in the vicinity of killer whales, common sense rules apply and regulations exist so as disturbance and danger are minimised.
Orca are predators with quite a reputation, but no records exist of deliberate fatal attacks on humans. It still pays however, to show respect around these animals. General rules are outlined below:
- Operate your boat slowly and quietly at “no wake” speed
- Manoeuvre your boat sensitively near dolphins. Do not obstruct their path, cut through a group or separate mothers from calves
- Avoid sudden noises that could startle the animals
- Co-operate with others so all may see the dolphins without putting them at risk
Aircraft should also maintain a safe distance of at least 150 metres from killer whales and should not fly directly overhead.

New Zealand regs actually don't offer a minimum safe distance for watercraft, only a 150m safe distance for aircraft. However, they do say that you should "manoeuvre your boat sensitively near dolphins. Do not obstruct their path, cut through a group or separate mothers from calves" which is exactly what this clownhead was doing. Paddling as hard as you can towards a baby orca? Oh yeah, that's harassment.


  1. Good advice. The paddler on the SUP (paddleboard) was lucky the mother Orca was so kind! There are stiff fines for harassing and chasing whales, dolphins, and manatees in some countries. The U.S. in particular. I have seen signs posted in many launch sites that describe unacceptable behavior, laws, and the fines for behaving badly. It's a good thing to let people know! Thanks for posting this. Some people simply don't know it is harmful or dangerous or against the law.

    1. Every year Louise and I go on a local whale watching tour, and we've seen American officials chase off whale watching boats who have blundered too close to the orcas. And good on them for doing it.
      The whales go where they want to go -- we have no control over that -- and if they want to visit you, they will. But chasing them down like in this video -- that's just ignorant.