Nelson man Sam Wild, 21, faced a $10,000 fine for swimming with orca whales in Wellington last week. Insert: a picture taken of Sam in the water with the orcas.

Nelson orca swimmer escapes $10,000 fine


The Nelson marine biology student that swam with six orcas in Wellington’s harbour says he would do it all again in a heart beat, although next time he might be issued with a $10,000 fine.
Nelson man Sam Wild, 21, is a former Nayland College student who caught the attention of the nation last week, jumping at the “once in a lifetime” chance to swim within arms reach of a whale pod, which also included a baby orca.
He described the experience as “terrifying, exhilarating, scary and exciting” but never once thought he was in danger of being attacked. “If I held my arm out I would’ve been able to touch them,” he says. “Everybody else who is studying the same thing [as me] said they would have done the exact same thing in that situation. There are no regrets at all.”
But the reaction to Sam’s whale swim has been mixed and he only narrowly avoided a $10,000 fine for breaching a Marine Mammals Protection Regulation that states it is an offence to swim within 100m of a whale – something he never knew existed. “What went from the experience of a lifetime swimming with these orcas, has turned into something it shouldn’t be.”
He says he was well aware of the risks involved and that the negative publicity has definitely dampened the experience. “I honestly just did it for the experience; I wasn’t there to show off or anything like that. I knew the risk I was taking. I knew the chances of an attack or getting hurt were minimal.”
Sam made contact with the Department of Conservation on Friday to clear the air over the issue. He got a stern warning but was happy that he could move on from the incident. “I’m from Mapua so I’ve spent most of my life near the ocean, all my hobbies are in the ocean, all my passion is in the ocean and this is where I want my career to go. Whether it’s with orca, only time will tell.”


  1. gosh, did the whales mind? If he was any threat he would have got attached from the mother but obiously they didn’t mind! If I could swim confediently in the sea it would be amaising and as he said scarcey exciting etc… I think its great a young lad is getting his kicks out of enjoying nature rather than being a real criminal hurting people or stealing etc… SO mixed feelings here, understand we have to protect our whales, but hey he was having a whale of a time 🙂

  2. This lads once in a life time experience broke the law which is to PROTECT the whale. Does everyone from your home town only think of themselves? A future profession in marine biology I think not.

    • How in any way were these actions threatening these *dolphins? Hmm? As the most intelligent animals aside from humans you think they would have the ability to remove themselves from threatening situations? Or at least show behaviour that they are under stress? And do you also think that an individual who is in the process of making the ocean, and everything within it, his career focus would be able to make a professional judgement on whether it was safe to experience the most incredible opportunity offered to him? I think so. Don’t be so quick to call an entire community shallow minded. Open your mind to different perspectives.

  3. If you condone one (likely intelligent) person doing this, you could easily have all sorts of total morons doing it too – and then getting all upset when one of them gets attacked. Best to leave the wild things alone, and enjoy them from a safe spot. No harm done this time ,and an extraordinary experience for the person in question, but I think DOC did the right thing (first time for everything!) in giving him a reprimand.

  4. Awesome Sam!
    You have managed to pull off one my dream experiences. I have tried to swim
    with a small pod of orca, but never got within more than about 50m of them.
    Contrary to those who disagree with your actions, I suggest that Sam showed the
    animals the greatest respect by entering their domain with a full understanding
    of the risks. In no way, did Sam threaten the animals and showed
    restraint by not touching them which could have caused a distress response. The
    ultimate result of this experience is that NZ has gained an educated
    scientist who is dedicated to preserving and understanding this
    magnificent and vulnerable species.