New Zealand orcas join surfers in search for the perfect wave

Monday, November 15, 2010 3:45pm PST

New Zealand orcas join surfers in search for the perfect wave

By: Pete Thomas,

When the latest big swell arrived at Sandy Bay in northern New Zealand, it wasn’t the waves making headlines, but the sleek black-and-white surfers who rode them.

Orcas, or killer whales, positioned themselves prominently and made it clear they were the realexperts — and that no mere human on a surfboard was going to deny them whatever waves they wanted.

“They knew what they were doing,” Michael Cunningham, aNorthern Advocate photographer and witness, told the newspaper. “They looked like they’d done it before.”

New Zealand’s orcas, unlike those in other parts of the world, are known to occasionally embark on surfing forays, but rarely is someone on the beach ready with a camera.

[Related: Sharks and the ‘ecology of fear’]

Cunningham had been bodysurfing when the orcas arrived Friday, but quickly swam ashore to grab his camera. His images, which show orcas charging through the waves, remain in high demand.

Ingrid Visser, founder of the Orca Research Trust near Sandy Bay, said few sharp images of this phenomenon exist and that Cunningham’s photos could be used in a research paper on the island nation’s surfing orcas.

Visser, a foremost authority on orcas, said she does not know of anywhere else on earth where orcas spend a significant amount of time riding waves.

She and a research crew had observed the same orcas surfing at different beaches the day before and after their now-famous session at Sandy Bay, which is north of Auckland.

Because Visser spends so much time studying orcas she has witnessed them surfing many times, but always from a boat behind the breaking waves.

However, that’s also a sight to behold because their kick-outs, as the waves close out or get too close to land, are far more dramatic than those of ordinary surfers.

“They’ll often come right out of the back of the wave and breach out into the trough that follows behind,” Visser said in a Monday interview. “And that’s really exciting to see as well.”

She said New Zealand orcas are a distinct population and that playfully riding waves, the way dolphins ride waves in many places throughout the world, is part of their culture.

However, since orcas can weigh up to eight tons and are atop the food chain, surfing alongside them can be unsettling, to say the least.

“Some of the surfers, like the orca, just go for it and have an absolute buzz,” Visser said. “And then other surfers freak out and tell people how it was a life-threatening situation, so you get both extremes.”

New Zealand’s orcas prey largely on rays and small sharks and have never been implicated in attacks on humans.

Cunningham said foreign tourists were the first out of the water when the orcas appeared Friday. He had been swimming for about an hour before they arrived, and after catching a wave in he looked back and saw several orcas, including a calf, riding a large wave shoreward.

Had he been holding a camera then, it would have been quite the family snapshot.

— Top two images are courtesy of Michael Cunningham / Northern Advocate. Bottom image is courtesy of Ingrid Visser / Orca Research Trust


Best Time to See the Leonid Meteor Shower Is Now

Best Time to See the Leonid Meteor Shower Is Now

Tariq Malik Managing Editor
– Tue Nov 16, 10:00 pm ET
File photo of Leonid meteors seen in Japan (AP)

The Leonid meteor shower  of 2010 is peaking this week and the best time to see the sky show is now.

The annual Leonids should be at their best through Nov. 18, according to skywatching experts. Avid meteor gazers graced with clear skies may see between 15 and 20 meteors per hour.

This sky map shows where to look to see “shooting stars” from the Leonids this week. The best time to try to see the Leonids are in the last two or three hours before sunrise, when the moon has set.

“From the time of moonset until around 5:15 a.m. – when the first streaks of dawn begin to appear in the east Ñ the sky will be dark and moonless,” advises Joe Rao, skywatching columnist. “That interval will provide you with your best opportunity to see any Leonid meteors.” [Gallery: Spectacular Leonid Meteor Shower Photos]

Another tip: Make sure to stay warm and get comfortable.

“If you have a lawn chair that reclines, use it during your search for Leonid meteors since it will help keep your neck from getting stiff as well as make it easier to look at the night sky,” Rao said.

The Leonid meteor shower is an annual event that returns every mid-November. The shower is caused by material left behind the comet Tempel-Tuttle when it passes near Earth’s orbit during its regular trip through the solar system. [Top 10 Leonid Meteor Shower Facts]

When the Earth passes through these knots of comet material, the gas and dust flares up in the atmosphere, creating spectacular meteors.

Every 33 years, the Earth encounters a dense knot of material – most recently in 2002 – to create dazzling displays of shooting stars. During those showers, it can be possible to see hundreds or thousands of meteors per hour.

That isn’t the case this year because the Earth is passing through a less dense area of Comet Tempel-Tuttle’s trail, Rao said.

Still, the Leonids retain a reputation for offering impressive meteor displays.

But with fewer meteors expected this year, you may want to travel a bit to find the best spot. Meteor-gazing from a rooftop in suburbia doesn’t always offer the best view.

“For your best view, get away from city lights. Look for state or city parks or other safe, dark sites,” advise the editors of StarDate magazine at the McDonald Observatory in Texas. “Lie on a blanket or reclining chair to get a full-sky view. If you can see all of the stars in the Little Dipper, you have good dark-adapted vision.” offers rich and compelling content about space science, travel and exploration as well as astronomy, technology, business news and more. The site boasts a variety of popular features including ourspace image of the day and other space pictures,space videosTop 10sTriviapodcasts and Amazing Images submitted by our users. Join our community, sign up for our free newsletters and register for our RSS Feeds today! 




Weird Creature

Fanfin Seadevil





Shovelnose Guitarfish Mouth



Weird creature







Elephant Fish Mouth


Dragon Fish

Basket Star

Pale and transparent Holothurian


Hairy Frogfish


Vampire Squid



Bat fish



Brachionichthys hirsutus





Viper fish

Strange japanese fish

Spider crab


Lancet fish

Pale red Acorn worm

Snakehead fish

Angler fish

Funny fish

Bathypelagic Ctenophore

Fangtooth fish



Basking Shark Mouth

Black Chimaera

Hatchet fish

Scaly dragonfish


Deep-sea jellyfish

Benthic Holothurian


Weird Creature


Angler fish

Polynoid Polychaete worm




Mistery of Read Sea – Middle East

Mistery of Read Sea Middle East

Red Sea Mystery Wreck
These photos are of an unknown historical shipwreck in the Red Sea and we would be very interested to hear from anyone who has any experience in Maritime Archaeology or history of the area and era to get their opinion.  Click on a thumbnail to see a larger image and yes, that is a bell amongst the debris. If anyone has any thoughts I would be very interested to hear what you have to say.  You can contact us on 

Here is a slideshow of all of the photos put together that I thought would add a bit of interest.