Conservation Wildlife Management

Watch: New Zealand Man Fined for Trying to Body-Slam a Killer Whale

Government officials criticized and fined the man, but some say the punishment is too light
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A man jumps off a boat and tries to body slam an orca.
Officials say the video shows the man's deliberate attempt to "body slam" the adult male orca that was swimming past the boat. Photo via Facebook

A New Zealand man who was caught on video trying to body slam an orca from a boat is getting shamed on social media. He’s also been fined and criticized by federal officials for clearly violating marine mammal protection laws, although some people have complained that the $600 fine is insufficient given the man’s actions.

In a media release on May 21, officials with the New Zealand Department of Conservation called attention to the “body slam” video, which was shared with the agency by a member of the public after it was posted on Instagram in February. Officials said the man is a 50-year-old Auckland resident, but they did not release his identity.

‼️ Shocking footage. A man who leapt from a boat into the water near two orca has been slapped with a $600…

Posted by Department of Conservation on Monday, May 20, 2024

The NZDOC also re-shared the video to its Facebook page on May 20. The footage shows a shirtless man jumping off a boat in a deliberate attempt to land on top of the adult male orca that is swimming by with its calf. Several other people are on the boat drinking and cheering the man on. He continues swimming toward the whales and tries to touch them after he fails to connect on the belly flop.

NZDOC official Hayden Loper said the stunt was a “clear breach” of the Marine Mammals Protections Act, which makes it illegal for anyone to harass, swim with, or harm killer whales and other protected marine mammals. (After the U.S. established the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, New Zealand followed suit, passing its own similarly named law in 1978.) The New Zealand government has some strict but simple guidelines for people to comply with the MMPA. The man shown in the video breaks every one of these and more, taking the concept of marine mammal harassment to a new and idiotic level.

“The video left us genuinely stunned,” Loper said. “This is stupid behaviour and demonstrates a shocking disregard for the welfare of the orca. It is extremely irresponsible.”

Loper added that the situation could have “ended horribly” — especially for the man, who could have learned for himself why orcas are also called killer whales.

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“Really wish he’d have been eaten,” one person said in response to NZDOC’s Facebook post. Other commenters argued he should’ve faced prison time or had his boat taken away, and most agreed that the $600 fine (roughly $369 USD) handed down by the department was way too light. They pointed to New Zealand’s marine mammal harassment law — which states that “anyone charged with harassing, disturbing, injuring, or killing a marine mammal faces a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment or a fine to a maximum of $250,000” — and they said the man was clearly and intentionally harassing and disturbing the whales in the video.

NZDOC defended its decision in the comments, saying that it chose not to pursue a conviction because the incident “did not appear to result in significant harm or disturbance to the orca involved.” Some commenters still disagreed with this interpretation, but the agency explained that because they’re not trying to prosecute the body slammer, a $600 fine is the maximum fine they can issue.