Watch a Black Lab Narrowly Outswim Two Killer Whales in New Zealand

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Written by Angie Menjivar

Updated: December 30, 2023

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black lab swims
© Tom Meaker/

This video starts with a view of Mathesons Bay, Leigh in New Zealand. There are some rocks peeking out of the water and a diver is right in the center of the screen, looking forward, as a large black orca fin approaches him.

It gets a bit too close for comfort and he shimmies his way up the rocks, crawling backward as he keeps his gaze on the giant orca in front of him. As the video continues, you spot a second fin and realize there are two orcas in the water, swimming extremely close to shore.

The camera pans over to the diver again, and you can see he has emerged fully out of the water and is resting on the rocks to keep away from the two killer whales. Then, the video cuts to a shot of the black lab enjoying the water.

The pup is so close to the shore that you can see the small waves as they roll in just behind him. He’s looking around, swimming toward shore when one of the orca’s fins emerges out of the water, much too close to the lab.

The lab has its focus on shore and continues forward as the orca comes up out of the water just behind him. He notices that he’s not alone and has a normal reaction to hurry up and keep swimming. It gets to the point where the water isn’t deep enough to keep swimming and he stands, turns around, and looks over at the orca.

The orca has managed to make its way to the shallow area of the bay and when it realizes it can’t go further, it makes a turn and swims off as the black lab stares in disbelief (along with other onlookers!).

About Labradors

Types of water dogs

Labradors are not only capable of swimming for hours but also have waterproof coats.


Labradors are a popular breed because they make easy-going and affectionate life companions for humans. They’re great with families and they love being in the water. In fact, their chubby tails act as rudders in the water, helping them swim quickly.

Their coats are waterproof and even when the water is cold, they remain happy-go-lucky! They have boundless energy, which makes them incredibly versatile as hunting and working dogs. They can run and swim for hours on end and are often utilized in settings that require a commitment to hard work like search and rescue missions.

Where Do Orcas Live?

Killer whale breaching

Orcas can be found on every coast in New Zealand.

©Tory Kallman/

The largest members of the dolphin family, orcas prefer to live far out at sea where the water is deeper. Although they generally live all over the globe, these predators prefer colder water.

It is no surprise, however, that they showed up at Leigh since they do approach coastlines and can be found at every coast in New Zealand, and may even make an appearance at estuaries and harbors.

Healthy orcas gravitate toward oxygenated water, which they find close to shore. The water tends to be clearer, and they don’t have to deal with the pollution they normally encounter in deeper waters.

How Large Do Orcas Get?


Male orcas average 20-26 feet long, while females reach lengths of 18-22 feet.


Generally, male killer whales average 20 to 26 feet in length and weigh 12,000 pounds. Females measure 18 to 22 feet long and weigh from 8,000 to 11,000 pounds. At birth, orca calves weigh 400 pounds and measure 7 to 8 feet long. However, Killer whales differ in size based on the type. We’ll look at the sizes of some of the subspecies below.

  • Southern Resident Killer Whale–These whales are the smallest type or orcas and inhabit the northeast portion of the Pacific Ocean. Females grow to an average of 18 to 22 feet long and weigh from 8,000 to 11,000 pounds, while males measure 20 to 26 feet, and average 12,000 pounds in weight.
  • Bigg’s Killer Whale–This whale is larger than the southern resident orca, able to grow to 26 feet in length. These killer whales primarily occur between the Arctic and Baja California in Mexico.
  • Offshore Killer Whale–This elusive orca species keeps to the open waters in the northern hemisphere. Females typically measure 18 feet long, while males can get much bigger.
  • Northern Atlantic Type 1 Killer Whale— This type of orca is found around Norway, Iceland, and Scotland. Females measure 16 to 19 feet long while males grow between 19 to 22 feet.
  • Northern Atlantic Type 2 Killer Whale–This type, typically found off the coasts of Iceland and Norway, is bigger than the Northern Atlantic Type 1 killer whale. Males can grow to 29 feet long.
  • Antarctic Type A Killer Whale–The largest species of killer whale, the Antarctic type A killer whale can grow up to 32 feet long. The reason these killer whales get so big is due to their diet, which consists of large prey like minke whales and seals.

Is This Normal Behavior?

black lab swims

Labradors’ ancestors were once bred to assist fishermen and are strong swimmers.

©Tom Meaker/

While Labradors are born with traits that can make them excellent swimmers, it isn’t a given that they’ll be comfortable in the water. Labradors should be introduced to the water and given opportunities to exercise their natural skills from a young age. That being said, ancestors to Labrador retrievers, namely St. John’s Water Dogs, were bred specifically as working dogs to aid Newfoundland fishermen.

Once a black lab is comfortable with the water, it will be natural for it to enjoy opportunities to swim, whether in a lake, river, swimming pool, or even the ocean. A black Labrador swimming in the ocean is not unusual at all. This particular black lab makes its way as quickly as possible to the shore once it notices the large whale.

Given the large proportion of the whale in size, it’s not surprising that the dog instinctually makes a dash in the opposite direction. While dogs can be good swimmers, they are at a distinct disadvantage in water over their heads.

What about the orca? Do “killer whales” eat dogs? There’s actually no record of an orca killing or eating a human or a dog. Orcas typically stick to the diet they are familiar with, which can include stingrays, and have been known to venture near the shore in search of them.

It’s obvious the orca was probably very curious about the swimming dog and may have been scoping it out as a potential meal. We’re very happy that this particular dog was able to make it to shore safely.

What Other Animals Live Around New Zealand’s Coasts?

Animals That Use Echolocation

Dolphins are just one example of marine wildlife that approach New Zealand’s coasts.


New Zealand is richly blessed with an abundance of marine wildlife including a variety of species that are all protected by law.

An adventurous labrador out for a swim might also spot:

The common dolphin (Delphinus delphis): Clever and gregarious, these cetaceans are known to make an appearance in summer and may be spotted in small groups or pods whose members may be as many as a thousand. Other New Zealand dolphins canine and human fans are likely to encounter include:

  • The dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus)
  • The bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus/Tursiops aduncus).

New Zealand fur seals (Arctocephalus forsteri): A case of deceiving appearances, these gregarious seals love regions with large rocks for sunning themselves, and shallow pools for a refreshing dip. Males also wage combat against each other with size playing a key role in deciding the victor. Other seals include:

Other animals that can be found in New Zealand waters include:

  • The seahorse (Hippocampus abdominalis)
  • The grey mullet (Mugil cephalus)
  • Wrasse (Notolabrus celidotus).

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About the Author

Angie Menjivar is a writer at A-Z-Animals primarily covering pets, wildlife, and the human spirit. She has 14 years of experience, holds a Bachelor's degree in psychology, and continues her studies into human behavior, working as a copywriter in the mental health space. She resides in North Carolina, where she's fallen in love with thunderstorms and uses them as an excuse to get extra cuddles from her three cats.

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