By Jasmine Kazlauskas and Kirstie Sutheran
This incredible footage shows the rarely-captured moment a pod of orcas played with a sunfish – before squaring up to a diver from just ONE METRE away.
Marine experts have been left stunned by the unbelievable video filmed by Sydney couple Rachel Stewart and her fiancé Matthew Barry, both 27, during a diving holiday to Kimbe Bay in Papua New Guinea earlier this month.
The never-before-seen footage has captivated the diving community because it is one of the only times orca have been spotted playing with a sunfish, also known as a mola mola.
Rachel said filming the impressive display was a ‘one in a million’ chance due to the traditionally-reclusive nature of the sunfish and because it was off-season for spotting orcas.
But she admitted her heart stopped when one of the gigantic mammals suddenly dropped its dinner while pushing the three metre sunfish with its nose and headed straight for her.
Primary school teacher Rachel, from Dee Why, said: “Our guide on the boat had warned us that it was not the right season for seeing orcas, because they only come out in June or July.
“They had never seen them in January, so when Matthew spotted the
black fin in the distance everyone was just in absolute disbelief.
“We couldn’t contain our excitement when the whole pod swam right over to the boat.
“They were massive, about six metres long. We think there were two large adult males, two smaller adult females and three small calves as well.
“We saw the orcas first and a few minutes later were shocked when we saw a huge fish bob to the surface.
“We knew it was a sunfish straight away as earlier in the year we travelled to Indonesia in search of them, with no luck.
“We never thought the first time we’d see one it would be getting tossed and passed between a pod of orcas.
“Our guide on the boat was a PNG local who had lived in the area his entire life and he was absolutely ecstatic.
“He told us that it was a sunfish and that he’d only ever seen one once in his 30 years of being a dive guide. They are completely uncommon for the area.
“It was even rarer to see the sunfish getting bounced around by all these orcas.
“We assumed the orcas were going to eat it but we didn’t actually see them do that.
“Sunfish are very bony and don’t look very tasty.
“So, we thought maybe it was either a case that the orcas’ other food sources had diminished or that perhaps they were teaching the young calves how to hunt.”
Rachel and her environmental scientist fiancé Matthew both jumped into the water to get closer to the pack of killer whales and the sunfish capturing the incredible footage on their GoPro.
But Rachel – who completed her 100th dive on the trip – said her heart stopped when one of the orcas suddenly dropped its dinner and headed straight for her as she was swimming with them.
The two were locked into a terrifying staring contest for a few petrifying moments before the local guide decided it was time to get back on the boat.
Rachel said: “It was literally about a metre away from me and was staring straight into my eyes.
“I couldn’t believe what was happening. I was a bit terrified but at the same time was so enchanted by being so close to such an amazing creature.
“It was exhilarating, and my heart was pounding the entire time.
“I’ve never had a marine animal pay such close attention to me and it just shows how intelligent these beautiful orcas really are.
“It was such an unforgettable experience and definitely something to cross off our bucket list.
“We just feel so lucky to have witnessed something so rare with our own eyes.
“It really was a once in a lifetime moment and I will never forget it. We will definitely be telling our grandkids about this one.”