Standing waist-deep in the water to see people pointing at something and yelling at him to get out was a bizarre experience for a local man as he trained at Pilot Bay yesterday morning.
After swimming the length of the bay about 8.30am Andrew Chappell stood up near Salisbury Wharf to the sounds of people yelling at him and pointing at three orca dorsal fins poking above the surface about 30 or 40m away.
"It was a bit bizarre, to be honest. It was a pretty surreal experience," said the Tauranga firefighter.
He said the conditions at Pilot Bay had been quite rough for swimming and as a result he had been taking breaths facing the shore as he trained for a half ironman.
Ironically, Mr Chappell was training in a wetsuit made by the brand Orca. "Maybe they thought I was one of them," he joked.
Once out of the water, Mr Chappell said he was approached by a woman who told him "my heart nearly stopped" when she saw the orca about 3m from him.
Duty harbour master Greg Meikle said he had not heard about the orcas' New Year visit but said they were usually spotted in Tauranga waters about 10 or 12 times a year.
Mr Meikle had unintentionally swum and scuba dived with orcas himself and said he had never heard of them acting aggressively or posing a threat to humans.
He said orcas fed on stingray and it was common for them to work in a group to force a ray into shallow waters where it could be more easily caught.
Mr Chappell said he enjoyed watching the orcas for five minutes from the shore before heading for a run around Mauao.
From there he saw boats stopping to watch the orcas play in the harbour entrance as they headed back out to sea.