A pod of killer whales stuck together after two were stranded north of Whangarei Heads yesterday.
Two adult killer whales became stranded on the low tide at the Taiharuru estuary, 32km north-east of Whangarei, for more than two and four hours respectively while seven of their pod swam nearby.
Locals watched spellbound as the marine mammals kept a close eye on their stranded mates, known to Tutukaka orca expert Dr Ingrid Visser as Rudie, a 6.6-metre male and Double Dent, a four-metre female.
But the loyalty of the whales waned as Double Dent freed herself and swam off with the remaining seven at 12.30pm - leaving Rudie stranded on his own.
It was an "incredible" day for Miss Visser who saw two other groups of whales -- a pod of killer whales near Whangaruru and two brydes whales feeding outside the Taiharuru estuary yesterday.
She had rushed to the whales from Tutukaka by boat and was undaunted by Rudie's mates leaving him.
"He's a big boy and he can look after himself," she said. Rudie and Double Dent are believed to have become stranded near the mouth of the Taiharuru estuary at about 10am, after the pod had been hunting stingray.
Miss Visser recognised Rudie and Double Dent from previous encounters. Asked how she recognised them, she said: "They all look different just like people do.” She believed Rudie was the son of Double Dent, so a calf hanging closely by Double Dent was Rudie's sibling.
The rest of the pod were juveniles and adults.
Killer whales spend much time looking for stingray in shallow water.
Miss Visser said Rudie had got a little sunburned.
Local man Henare Phillips, who rowed Department of Conservation workers out to the whales, was in awe of the creatures after he stroked Rudie.
"What an amazing sight. They're just like us. They're all looking for a feed," Mr Phillips said. Rudie eventually freed himself on the high tide at 2.10pm and Miss Visser saw him back with his pod at 3pm near Tutukaka.