New Zealand man filmed trying to ‘body slam’ an orca in actions described as ‘idiotic’ | New Zealand

The actions of a New Zealand man filmed jumping off a boat in what appears to be an attempt to “body slam” an orca have been described as “shocking” and “idiotic” by the country’s Department of Conservation.

In a video shared to Instagram in February, a man can be seen jumping off the edge of a boat into the sea off the coast of Devonport in Auckland, in what appears to be a deliberate effort to touch or “body slam” the orca, the department said. He leaps into the water very close to a male orca, as a calf swims nearby, while someone on board the boat films it. Others can be heard laughing and swearing in the background.

As he swims back towards the boat he yells “I touched it” and asks “did you get that?” He then attempts to touch the orca again.

Hayden Loper, a principal investigator at the department, said the 50-year-old man showed reckless disregard for his own safety and that of the orca. “The video speaks for itself, it is shocking and absolutely idiotic behaviour,” he said.

The department received a tip-off about the video from a couple of concerned people who had seen the footage on social media. Working with police, the department identified the man and handed him a $600 infringement fine.

“It’s a very clear breach of the Marine Mammals Protection Act. Orca are classified as whales under conservation legislation and it is illegal to swim with, or disturb or harass any marine mammal,” he said.

Loper said often people breach the act by accident, for example taking a jetski too close to a marine mammal, but in this case, “it [was] a real blatant example of stupidity”.

“For him to jump into the water deliberately and swim up to the orca [and] to make sure that it was filmed … it defies belief.”

Social media is a double-edged sword when it comes to protecting marine life. On the one hand, it can help alert the department to incidents, but it can also act as a catalyst for poor behaviour.

“It was a deliberate attempt to get likes and views on social media. What’s also really disappointing is not just the actions of the individual but those in the boat – it is almost a bit of a pack mentality and they are encouraging this behaviour.”

New Zealand orca can be found throughout the country’s coastline, but with a population of just 150-200 they are deemed “nationally critical” and face a high risk of extinction.

The orca appeared to escape injury, but Hannah Hendriks, the department’s marine technical adviser, said jumping into water on top of any dolphin or small whale could easily damage their sensitive fins.

A person jumping into the water could startle the animal, she said, and cause it to collide with a propeller or keel.

“Interacting with pods can disturb their natural behaviours like resting, feeding, and socialising, which can have long-term impacts on survival and breeding success, while repeated disturbance may lead to animals avoiding an area,” she said.

“In particular, disturbance of a pod with a calf presents a risk of separation of the calf from the rest of the pod – if the calf is still reliant on its mum for milk, this can end up with the calf starving, stranding, and ultimately dying.”

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