We've seen some unnervingly close encounters with the ocean's monochrome giants, but this recent brush with orcas off the coast of New Zealand is more dramatic than most!

The clip was filmed on Auckland's Waiheke Island by local resident Shane Watt, who witnessed the action play out from his waterside home. 

It's plain to see (and hear!) that the bathers were more than a little rattled by the whales' approach, but local experts believe the children were in no real danger. 

"The kids were obviously very frightened," Watt told TVNZ. "It took us a minute to calm down afterwards so I can't imagine what the adrenaline would've been like for them."

It's not unheard of for orcas to make an inquisitive approach (or even to charge) towards potential prey or anything that appears out of the ordinary in their environment – only to slow down and adjust course upon realising that the object of interest is not on the menu. 

According to marine guide and Whale Rescue co-founder Jo "Floppy" Halliday, who has been working with cetaceans in New Zealand for over 20 years, it's precisely this kind of investigative swim-by we're seeing in the video. And there's no evidence to support claims by some commenters that the whales were "stalking" the children. 

"Sometimes they're echolocating; they're seeing something and that makes them curious," Halliday told Stuff New Zealand. "[The orcas] realised they were two little humans and just kept moving."

The two small – at least by adult orca standards! – males certainly stirred up quite the drama, however. Other bathers reportedly scrambled onto nearby rocks as the whales passed by, after initially mistaking them for extraordinarily large sharks. 

As for what the predators were doing so close to shore, it's likely that an influx of stingrays in the area brought them inland. Some New Zealand orcas are known ray-eating specialists, and past studies have shown they often hunt the potentially dangerous prey in tandem.

Learn more about the behaviour in our past coverage here!



Top header image: Kenai Fjords National Park/Flickr