Orca spotted in Wellington Harbour

Last updated 10:38 05/12/2011

Orca spotted in Wellington Harbour

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LATEST: A pod of orca has been spotted in Wellington Harbour this morning.

Several residents have seen the pod around the ferry terminal heading towards Oriental Bay.

Te Papa's marine mammals collection manager Anton van Helden said it was not unusual to see orca around Wellington and along the Kapiti Coast at this time of year.

"It's exciting, and it's nice, but it's not uncommon."

Orca were known to eat flatfish along the Kapiti Coast and would follow other food species too.

"They're very good at picking things up. They will probably know when particular things are flushing in [certain] areas."

There was a resident population of orca around New Zealand's waters and the animals were not likely to be migrating from one area to another, van Helden said.

Fewer than 200 orca are estimated to be living in New Zealand waters. They are most commonly spotted off the Bay of Plenty, East Coast and Hawke's Bay coasts in June, and again from October to December.

There are probably three resident populations: one off the North Island, one off the South Island, and a group that spends its time in both regions.

Orca, though confusingly known as killer whales, are actually dolphins.

There have been several pods seen around Wellington recently, including a Hector's dolphin in Wellington Harbour and a pod in Paremata.

Orcas commonly visit Wellington between spring and autumn, following prey like stingrays into warmer, shallower waters.

They form strong habits and tend to revisit the same spots year after year.

The typical pod of New Zealand orca is two to four, smaller than in most other places in the world.

They are known to eat fish, seals, stingrays and even dolphins.

There have been no known orca attacks on humans.

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- The Dominion Post

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