Orca In Auckland Delight, But Boatie Behaviour Causes Concern

Press Release – Cetacean Spotting NZ

A pod of orca have been patrolling the close Auckland coasts this week, delighting onlookers who have lined beaches from Whangaparaoa to Mission Bay. In many instances, orca watchers had ring side seats from rocky outcrops on land. However, the behaviour of some boat-based viewers, has left cetacean spotters aghast.

Among the images this week of a magnificent huge male orca, and a tiny calf with a pod of five or six, close in and further out to shore, videos have emerged that appear to show kayakers circling orca and getting too close.

In many instances, orca approach people in watercraft. Earlier this week, the orca pod approached a crew of young surf lifesavers off Red Beach. But people are being reminded to keep a respectful distance if they are lucky enough to encounter orca, or to be encountered by them.

On Saturday morning, some observers say the orca were so disturbed by kayaker efforts around Takapuna, that they changed their behaviour and direction, and headed straight out to sea, after hugging the coast from Orakei earlier in the day.

Scientific research shows that cetaceans often modify their behaviour and take aversive action when encountering people in boats that get too pushy, especially when calves are present with the pod. This can lead to stress, disturbed bonding, less time spent feeding, and risks for the calves. In 2015 an orca calf was hit by a motorboat in the Hauraki Gulf, and killed, and the mother spent several days carrying the dead body, apparently grieving. But sub-lethal impacts can affect orca’s thriving too.

The rise of social media cetacean spotting groups enables many more enthusiasts to observe whales and dolphins when they’re close to shore. New Zealand’s coast provides many incredible opportunities for land-based viewing. Advocate and leader of the Facebook group ‘Cetacean Spotting NZ’, Christine Rose, says “People can go a bit crazy when they see whales and dolphins – a phenomenon called ‘akrasia’, and that can lead them to behaviour that’s not in the best interests of the animals”. “The best whale and dolphin watching is when they don’t even know you’re there”. “These precious and quite rare animals already face significant human pressures – boat strike, noise, pollution, entanglement. We are privileged to have them close to shore in our biggest city. We need to give them space, and be above reproach whether they approach us or we encounter them at sea”. “It is socially unacceptable to get too close, and these days, anyone who does, is likely to be watched”.

The Department of Conservation rules for boaties when interacting with marine mammals require that people stay at least 50m away from orca and you must not obstruct their path. There should be no more than three vessels at a time within 300m of whales and dolphins. When pods have calves, greater distance is appropriate.

Akrasia – “Akrasia is the state of acting against your better judgment. It is when you do one thing even though you know you should do something else.”

Akrasia, refers to excess or intemperance, and comes from a Greek word meaning “lack of self-control.” Lifehacker says that the Akrasia effect may be attributed to “time inconsistency,” or “the tendency of the human brain to value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards.”

Michael Lück, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand; .and David A. Fennell2Brock University, St Catharines, Canada:

‘In some cases, whale watchers are well aware of the potential detrimental impacts their activities may have, yet they still participate in these practices. This behaviour, i.e. acting irrationally is referred to as akrasia: “a deficient capacity to contain or restrain one’s desires” (Mele, 1994: 424), based on the perceived pleasure of an activity overriding better judgment—a concept that has only recently been introduced in tourism studies (Fennell, 2015).

Fennell, D.A. (2015). Akrasia and tourism: Why we sometimes act against our better judgments. Tourism Recreation Research, 40(1), 95-106.

Mele, A. R. (1994). Self-control and belief. Philosophical Psychology, 7(4), 419– 436.

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