Diver Dragged Underwater by Whale in New Zealand – What Species?

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While the traumatized free diver claims that an orca swam over, grabbed a catch bag that was tied to his wrist, and dragged him underwater until he almost ran out of breath, it is highly unlikely that this was actually an orca.  For starters, orcas are unknown to attack humans in the wild, nor would they likely be interested in stealing a catch bag since the contents (which included crayfish) are not likely to be part of their diet.
It sounds much more like the work of a pilot whale, a species who have been known to drag humans underwater, always returning them to the surface just in time before drowning can occur. This appears to be how the whales send people a message when they feel harassed, and people don’t understand the warnings given by the whales.

In May 1992 a swimmer entered waters south off Hawaii and swam with a group of short-finned pilot whales. During the encounter one whale dramatically changed its behavior and finally attacked the swimmer by opening its mouth and grabbing the swimmer’s inner left thigh. Seconds later the human swimmer was drowned to 40 feet below the surface. Finally, the swimmer was brought back to the water surface. The scenario was filmed underwater and can be viewed on YouTube (…here…).The woman survived this life-threatening attack.  (From PilotWhales.org.)

Short finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus)
Short finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus)

Pilot whales can be confused with orcas, they are both commonly called ‘blackfish’, and both occupy New Zealand waters.
In any case, this is such an odd occurrence that it may turn out to be an incomplete story.  Like orcas, pilot whales are not known to randomly approach human divers and drag them underwater when the people are minding their own business.
Quoted below is part of the article in which the diver expressed that he assumed it was and orca, although he never saw it because of bubbles that obscured his vision:

Diver survives death spiral in whale attack
By Amy Maas 5:30 AM Sunday Feb 23, 2014

Levi Gavin says the orca dragged him beneath the water for more than 40 seconds before he broke free. Photo / Doug Sherring

Levi Gavin says the orca dragged him beneath the water for more than 40 seconds before he broke free. Photo / Doug Sherring

A free diver who was dragged to the depths of the ocean by a killer whale has told how he got down to his “last breath” during the terrifying ordeal.
Levi Gavin, 23, was collecting kina and crayfish at Horahora Estuary, 30km east of Whangarei on February 10, when an orca grabbed a catch bag attached to his right arm.
It dragged him beneath the water for more than 40 seconds before a rope connecting him to the bag came undone and he was able to free himself from the death spiral. Remarkably, he escaped injury.
In an exclusive interview, the keen fisherman told how he had tried to relax as he was being dragged deeper and deeper by the giant sea creature.
“As soon as it got me under water, my goggles came off and kept flapping on my face and it just kept going,” he told the Herald on Sunday.

“I went to go open my eyes but all I could see was little white bubbles so I just closed my eyes and tried not to use my energy because then I use up my breath.

“I got to my last breath. I couldn’t really think at the time.”
Gavin popped off his weight belt and floated to the surface before realising his arm was “dead” and he was unable to swim.
“My cousin was about 30m from me and I could hear his flippers from a mile away trying to get out to me because he saw me pop up.

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