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Nathan Pettigrew — A Very Special Guest

by | Mar 26, 2016 | Columns | 0 comments

This summer Nathan kayaked with bronze whalers, dolphins, rays and a very special guest.

We’re at the top end of summer now and it has been an absolutely superb season for seeing some ultra cool animals in the water.

The usual suspects that frequent our coast and inner harbour have turned up in their droves this season. Eagle rays and stingrays have been seen almost everywhere I look. No matter how often they ‘fly’ past me, I never tire of their gracefulness and effortless ease as they hug our beaches, often in less than two feet of water. Stingrays can be accompanied by a few kingfish which pick up any scraps of fish that the stingrays might disturb as they glide over the sand.

I’ve been lucky enough to kayak with plenty of bronze whaler sharks in these warm months. I absolutely love the bronzies but they have earned a terrible and unfounded reputation, with sightings appearing in the media alongside panicked warnings to stay away. There has never been a recorded attack by a bronze whaler in the Bay of Plenty. Ever. Pretty amazing when you consider how many people enter the water. The truth is, bronze whaler sharks are actually very skittish and it’s hard to get them to stick around to enjoy their company.

They will often get airborne to free themselves of something: parasites, or a hook in their mouth from a trailing fishing line. The sight of a shark gliding through the water is something truly special and it really is a privilege to see them; while shark numbers around the globe plummet by the million, we are lucky to have so many of them here.

Another amazing visitor to Tauranga harbour this summer was a leopard seal which had ventured up from the Sub-Antarctic. I first sighted it on a boat and then weeks later, not only was it still here, but it had made itself quite at home at one of the marinas. At two metres, this seal wasn’t huge; the bigger adults don’t tend to visit our coast and prefer to stay further south. Experts believe the juveniles come to our shoreline to moult, which seemed evident in our latest guest who I nicknamed Charles. What a very, very cool guest to have!

Further offshore, I was lucky enough to get some stunning shots of huge pods of common dolphins. Their name belies their beauty, particularly when you see 300 of them churning up the ocean with the power of their bodies moving through the water and air. Even more exciting is spotting the recently born calves. They are near perfect replicas of their adult counterparts but less than a third of the size. So cute.

Soon, summer will draw to a close, and as the water temperature cools, much of the marine life will move out of the Tauranga waters. The common dolphins will move on, as will the beautiful bronze whaler sharks. A few pockets of eagle rays will hang around but most will join the other animals in finding warmer water. Orcas have absolutely no pattern whatsoever and could turn up and leave at any time they like, something that makes them fun to spot. But while much of our summer marine life leaves, the cooler weather will see the return of our own small population of New Zealand fur seals. Keep your eyes open as you walk around Mauao; you’ll see them scattered on the rocks round the base.

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