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Whale-watchers stunned after 'rare' sighting of killer whales off Port Macquarie

The sighting of a pod of normally elusive orcas during a whale-watching tour on the New South Wales Mid North Coast has thrilled tourists and excited conservationists.

A Port Macquarie whale-watching operator said his crew and holiday makers had been looking for humpback whales off the coast on Monday when the large pod of killer whales surprised them and circled the boat.

"It was unreal," Port Jet Cruise Adventures owner Anthony Heeney said. 

"We'd been spotting a couple of humpbacks and then we saw a disturbance a little way away from us.

"Next thing we could see was a little calf with its tail in the air and we could see the big dorsal fins of the orcas."

Mr Heeney said the humpbacks had been exhibiting unusual behaviour before the team spotted the pod of eight to 12 orcas, which then circled the boat for more than 30 minutes. 

"It's extremely rare," he said, describing the sighting as "pot luck". 

"I've been here for eight years and I've never seen them and one of my skippers has been here for a lot longer, and it's been 15 years since he saw them last," he said. 

Orcas are known to follow humpback whales along Australia's coast through their northern and southern migration, often preying on the calves.

However, the Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia (ORRCA) said a sighting as far north as the New South Wales Mid North Coast region was rare. 

"To see such a large pod of orcas interacting with humpbacks in that area is an unusual occurrence, most definitely," ORRCA vice president Jools Farrell said.

"They have been sighted but not anywhere near the numbers sighted [on Monday]."

Ms Farrell said it was "a bit of a mystery" as to why killer whales were so difficult to spot, as experts were still learning about their behaviour.

"They're an Antarctic species and they're only really seen during the whale migration and not outside of that," she said. 

Photographers' dream

Port Macquarie local Jodie Lowe was on the whale-watching boat and is a keen whale photographer.

She has previously travelled the country to see killer whales but had never spotted one on the Mid North Coast. 

Ms Lowe, who often joins the tour company on its cruises, said the crew also saw a pod of about 12 humpback whales. 

"On the second whale-watch we went out on, we had all these humpback whales just circling the boat for a full hour, like they were using us for protection or something like that," she said. 

"There was very strange activity that day when the killer whales were out there."

Ms Lowe said it had been a lifelong dream to witness. 

"I've always wanted to see a killer whale off Port Macquarie because they're my favourite animal," she said. 

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