A pod of orcas spent the weekend near Picton Harbour teaching their young how to hunt.
The 12 orcas, including two males known as Nobby and Ben and a female called Astrid, were a welcome surprise to residents and tourists alike who watched them as they swam close to the shore near Picton and Waikawa.
Dolphin Watch Ecotours skipper Paul Keating said the orcas normally visited the Sounds at Christmas because of the large number of stingrays in the area.
He was out taking a group of 21 people, including Le Cafe staff, on a tour to Motuara Island when they came across part of the pod near Picton.
"We stopped the vessel to allow the animals right of way. They are curious creatures and swam right under us and then just went ahead," Mr Keating said.
Nobby followed the mothers and calves, close behind. The group also saw a mother teaching her three calves, including a newborn, how to gather food near Bob's Beach.
"The tourists thought it was fantastic. Some of those people had never seen a dolphin and here they got to see orca up close," Mr Keating said.
The Marlborough District harbourmaster was also on the water making sure boaties drove safely around the pod, he said.
Marion McNeilly was driving around by Shakespeare Bay when she saw one of the males close to Wedge Point.
"I just stopped and watched him from there. He was doing tail slaps on the water, it was incredible. They say eating stingrays is like eating chocolate for orca," she said.
Natasha Luxton, who has worked with Dolphin Watch since 2002, said she had never seen orcas so close to Picton before.
"Normally they go out Anakiwa way."