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The two adults and a calf made a rare diversion into the harbour and were seen swimming between Waipuna Bay and Aramoana about noon.
Mr Cousins said he and Ms Tomlinson were out salmon fishing when they saw the mammals splashing around.
"Nicole was looking out at a seal and then we saw beyond that and there were these fins poking out of the water."
Initially they saw just one, but later got closer and realised there were three, he said.
"It was pretty amazing. I’ve never seen a whale in real life before."
"It’s not common they come into the harbour, so it’s pretty exciting."
The animals were much more common in Kaikoura and Northland, he said.
"I’ve never seen orca around the Otago coast."
While whales and dolphins seldom strayed into the harbour itself, the coast was a "really reliable" place to see interesting marine life, he said.
This included Shepherd’s beaked whales, pilot whales and various species of dolphin.