Swimming with orcas

19:59, Sep 19 2011
Orca
MOVING FOOTAGE: Ingrid Visser swims with orca for her research.

An orca researcher is getting international exposure for her work with the top marine predators.

Ingrid Visser and the Tutukaka-based Orca Research Trust have starred in a documentary aired by the BBC.

The Woman Who Swims With Killer Whales is a joint production by BBC and Discovery Channel which follows Visser's unique research on New Zealand orcas.

steve hathaway
STORYTELLING: Steve Hathaway of Snells Beach says there are many marine stories that deserve to be told.

It was filmed mostly around Whangarei Harbour and the Tutukaka coast but also Kawau Island and Big Manly.

Snells Beach underwater cameraman Steve Hathaway is part of the team that helped film it.

The documentary has aired in the United Kingdom last week to rave reviews and within hours Visser's website had more than 5000 hits.

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She says the positive response is what she has always hoped for.

''Documentaries are a very powerful educational tool because you can get across information in a way that's consumable  it's not just dry science,'' she says.

As well as showing amazing underwater footage of the orca hunting stingray, the documentary also looks into what is killing the large dolphins.

Visser is concerned  about the impact of chemicals such as PCBs, DDTs and modern flame retardants.

Orca are the top of the food chain and  they ingest all of the chemicals their food has ingested. This means they have higher levels of PCBs and DDTs in their system than any other marine mammal in New Zealand, Visser says.

The use of PCBs and DDTs has been banned since the 1970s but their residue leaves a legacy in the marine environment, she says.

But a more worrying trend is the increasing amount of modern flame retardant chemicals found in orca in New Zealand as these have no regulation or restriction, she says.

''Because they're unregulated chemicals they're going to increase rapidly. Once they're in the environment we can't go back.''

Visser says this environmental message has been picked up by many of the documentary watchers, with hundreds writing her emails asking how to help.

The documentary was done by Big Wave productions' crew from Australia and the UK.

The documentary will screen in the United States and Visser hopes to run fundraising premier nights before it airs in New Zealand.

With no connection to a university, government department, or Crown research  institute all funding for Visser's research is raised privately.

She has long maintained that not enough funding is available for environmental and wildlife research.

Go to Visser's website for more information.

Rodney Times