[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] KW documentary big hit in Britain



Visser's orca doco big hit in Britain
DENISE PIPER Last updated 10:24 06/09/2011

Whangarei's very own woman who swims with killer whales is getting international exposure for her orca research.

Ingrid Visser from Tutukaka-based Orca Research Trust has starred in a documentary aired by the BBC.

The Woman Who Swims with Killer Whales is a joint production by BBC and Discovery Channel which follows Dr Visser's research on New Zealand orca.

It aired in the UK last week to rave reviews and within hours her website had more than 5000 hits.

Dr Visser says the positive response is what she has always hoped for.

"Documentaries are a very powerful educational tool because you can get across information but in a way that's consumable – it's not just dry science," she says.

As well as showing amazing underwater footage of the orca hunting stingray, the documentary also looks into what is killing killer whales.

Dr Visser is concerned about the impact of chemicals such as PCBs, DDT and modern flame retardants.

As orca are the top of the food chain, they ingest all of the chemicals their food has ingested and orca have the highest levels of PCBs and DDT in their system than any other marine mammal in New Zealand, she says.

The use of PCBs and DDT has been banned since the 1970s but their residue leaves a legacy in the marine environment, Dr Visser says.

But an even more worrying trend is the increasing amount of modern flame retardant chemicals found in orca in New Zealand, because these have no regulation or restriction, she says.

"Because they're unregulated chemicals they're going to increase rapidly. Once they're in the environment we can't go back."

Dr Visser says this message has been picked up by many of the documentary watchers, with hundreds writing her emails asking how to help.

Go to Dr Visser's website www. orcaresearch.org for more information.

Meanwhile Snells Beach underwater cameraman Steve Hathaway says it was great to be involved with such a high-quality documentary.

The documentary was done by Big Wave productions' crew from Australia and the UK, with the underwater footage done by Mr Hathaway helped by research assistant Wendy Turner. Most of it was filmed in Whangarei Harbour and the Tutukaka Coast.

It will next be screened in the United States and Dr Visser hopes to run fundraising premier nights, including one in Whangarei, before it airs in New Zealand.

PCB is polychlorinated biphenyls and DDT is dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane.

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