Blenheim man Dave Darby and his two friends found themselves on the same route as a pod of orca as they went diving for paua and kina on Sunday.
Mr Darby said it was the second time he had seen orca – the first was in Pelorus Sound last year.
The men first saw the pod of six orca near Dieffenbach Point at the entrance to the Tory Channel, and then spotted them at almost every bay they stopped at until they reached Jackson's Bay. "They were doing their hunting and gathering around there. The young guys [with him] got a bit of a shock. I called them whale bait," Mr Darby said.
The mothers and calves appeared to be playing with each other as they made their way up the channel while the bulls hung back, often swimming deep in the water for 500 metres to 600m before resurfacing.
"Three of the orca, a mother and two babies, came right up next to the boat. You could almost touch them they were that close," he said.
The orca got about 20m away from two of the men diving for paua and kina. They first noticed them when they saw a fin going around the edge of the rocks they were on looking for shellfish.
"The orca didn't take any notice of them, but the guys were a bit worried as you would be when you've got killer whales around. But they just busied themselves trying to find paua," Mr Darby said. "They're just thankful the orca didn't get any closer."