Paddleboarders follow a pod of orca in Tasman Bay on Sunday while onlookers check them out from Rocks Rd. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Orca in our bay


Jess Fulford thought she heard a high-pitched squeak as she slipped into Tasman Bay on Sunday morning for her morning swim.

Maybe it was just in her head, but it definitely sounded like a dolphin.

She and two other friends planned on swimming through The Cut from the Nelson Yacht Club and around Haulashore Island.

Then, as they got closer to Fifeshire Rock, Jess noticed there were a lot of paddleboarders around.

“They were saying there were dolphins around,” recalls Jess.

Sure enough, the swimmers looked across the water and saw some marine mammals breaching the surface of the water. This would be a great chance to swim with dolphins, they thought. So they carried on towards the splashing, with Roger Golding out in front.

“Then, literally, an orca breached right in front of Roger,” Jess says. “It was just this huge picture of black and white. ”

“We thought ‘oh my god, that’s not a dolphin’.”

The grouping of about nine orca all swam in through The Cut at about 8.30am and proceeded to get close up to Rocks Rd, much to the delight of onlookers.

Judi Bagust was on her morning walk on her last day on holiday in Nelson when she saw a crowd gathered along the road.

Then she saw what all the fuss was about.

“I’ve never seen one in my life, it is such a thrill,” she said. “To see them so close is wonderful. It’s magical.”

The mammalian encounter certainly spiced up Nelson local Daniel Allan’s morning run.

“You don’t see that every day,” he said.

Out in the water, Jess and her friends were still metres away from the orca.

“But we weren’t scared. They move so slowly and are so peaceful.”

She hopped aboard a random person’s paddleboard to get a better look at the pod.

“It just looked like they were everywhere.”

Stingrays are a favourite food of orca and Tasman Bay’s tidal estuaries make it a good environment for hunting. But that also concerned Jess who thought that the rays might be stirred up.

So, they took a long swim back – avoiding the coastline as much as they could.

“By the end of it we had covered about 5km, so we were glad that the swim was worth it and for the rest on the paddleboard.”

Head to the Nelson Weekly Facebook page to check out a video of the close encounter.