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Meet our dedicated Crew & Team who run the Orca Research Trust.

  • Dr Ingrid N. Visser
  • Terry Hardie
  • Paula O'Regan
  • Sarah Dwyer
  • Juan Copello
  • Sami Young
  • Our Boat
  • Talks/Travel with Dr Visser
  • Tours/Whale Trail


Ingrid and Rudie
In November 2004, this adult male orca, known as Rudie, was left stranded on the beach as the tide receded at Taiharuru, Northland, New Zealand. Rudie's mother and younger sibling were also trapped. Dr Visser was there to lend a hand as they awaited their return to the ocean.
All three were successfully rescued and have been regularly resighted since then.

Photo The Northern Advocate Newspaper

Born in New Zealand, Dr Visser remains the only researcher specializing in orca in New Zealand waters.


Her research officially began in 1992 when she embarked on her life-long dream to study the orca. Since then she has worked with orca not only around New Zealand, but also in the waters of Antarctica, Argentina and Papua New Guinea.

Whilst travelling aboard eco-tourism ships or on private expeditions, she has also contributed to orca research projects in the Kamchatka region of Russia; Washington, Alaska and British Colombia off North America as well as Iceland (where she worked with the team releasing “Keiko” the star of the Free Willy movies).

Her work has appeared in various magazines and on numerous documentaries made for TV. She has written two children’s books as well as an autobiography “Swimming with Orca” which was a finalist in the 2005 NZ Montana Book Awards.

Dr Visser’s research does not receive Government or University funding, but is run through the non-profit, Orca Research Trust, a New Zealand registered Charity.

Dedicated to protecting the orca, Dr Visser believes in making science ‘consumable’ for the general public and as such she is often seen out in the community giving talks about these incredible apex predators.


Terry with Keiko
Terry with Keiko ("Free Willy" star) at the release site in Iceland

Photo Ingrid Visser / Orca Research Trust

Born in South Africa, Terry immigrated to New Zealand as a youngster and expanded on his interest in the computer sciences. Founding one of the first publicly-accessible email companies in New Zealand, he was soon head-hunted to the United States of America where he currently resides.

Mr Hardie’s skills in the electronic / IT arena makes him a valuable asset to a number of orca research projects. For the New Zealand based Orca Research Trust, he is not only a Trustee, but also a valued field researcher. Utilizing various types of equipment (e.g., HD cameras, hydrophones) Terry’s contribution to the research has enabled us to gain insights into these incredibly adapted animals.

As an avid photographer and videographer, images taken by Mr Hardie, for the Orca Research Trust, have been published around the world and are continually used to promote the Trusts’ mission statement : “To Protect Orca & their Habitat, through Conservation, Education & Scientific Research.”


Paula at work on the Orca Research Trust website

Photo Julia Baer

Originally from Cape Clear Island, a small island on the south coast of Ireland, Paula has a background in education and training.

She is an instructor in kayaking and snorkelling and holds sailing & passenger boat qualifications.

Following her Masters in E-Learning in 2006 she decided to move to New Zealand to take advantage of the great Northland climate and marine access.

This move has allowed her contribute to that same environment by becoming involved with the Orca Research Trust aims.

Having developed much of the Orca Research Trust website the next major project is to develop an outreach / e-learning programme for the Orca Research Trust. This will provide more access to NZ orca information and ultimately assist in their conservation.


Sarah and an Orca
Sarah, on the Orca Research Trust boat,
up close and personal with an orca.

Photo Ingrid Visser / Orca Research Trust

Having grown up mainly in the UK and Ireland, Sarah completed her undergraduate studies at the University of St Andrews, Scotland where she graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Marine and Environmental Biology.

She then moved to New Zealand in 2006. Sarah began volunteering for the Orca Research Trust in 2007 and gained valuable field-work experience with Dr Visser through a number of projects including cetacean survey’s in Papua New Guinea and providing support during the filming of the documentary, ‘Killer Whales’, which features the New Zealand Orca and the Orca Research Trust.

After working with Dr Visser for over two years Sarah is now conducting her own research as she studies for a PhD at Massey University, Auckland under the Coastal-Marine Research Group as part of the New Zealand Common Dolphin Project (NZCDP). While she is out in the field conducting her PhD research investigating the distribution, density and fine scale habitat use of common dolphins (Delphinus sp.) in the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand, Sarah also continues to collect data for the Orca Research Trust.


Juan and an Orca
Juan meets an Orca

Juan grew up in one of the most famous orca places in the world – Punta Norte, Argentina – known for the orca who come up onto the beach to take sealion pups. A chance encounter resulted in he and Ingrid (along with two other researchers) founding a research project to study this well-publicized, but little known, population of orca.

Having a natural understanding of orca behaviour Juan has worked with film crews from around the world to capture their grace and power.

To enhance his field-skills for studying orca, Juan frequently works in New Zealand with the Orca Research Trust. His last sabbatical here had him assisting with the filming of the Discovery Channel/Pangolin Pictures documentary, which also followed him to Argentina.


Sami with Moko

Photo: Ingrid Visser / Orca Research Trust


From Australia, Sami has been fascinated by Orca from a young age.

Sami is currently taking six months away from her Marine Science degree to work with Dr Ingrid Visser at the Orca Research and Education Centre in New Zealand before returning to Australia to complete her university studies.


She has five years of experience working part-time at a Veterinary Hospital. In her role as a research assistant with the Orca Research Trust, Sami's tasks range from boat maintenance to filming a rare orca necropsy in Wellington.


She will be travelling to Argentina as a Research Assistant to Dr Visser to study the Orca which come up onto the beach to predate on sea lion pups at Punta Norte, Peninsula Valdes, Argentina.


On completing her degree in Marine Science, Sami intends to pursue a career in wildlife documentary filmmaking.


Our Naiad RIB

We use a Rigid-hull Inflatable Boat (RIB) built by Naiad NZ. This 5.8m boat is specifically rigged out to allow quick stowage of safety equipment as well as orca observation gear before launching anywhere around the country. The boat lives on a trailer at the Orca Research base, ready for quick deployment.

Naiad boats have been touted as the ‘4x4 of the sea’ and we would have to agree with this assessment, given we have used our boat in the wildly varying conditions found around New Zealand. No matter if we have rough seas, wind, rain or of course sunny days we are always glad to be out on our Naiad.

The boat was previously powered by twin Yamaha 4-Stroke engines, but we have switched to a single 150 Yamaha engine. This new engine has proved to be extremely fuel efficient, allowing us to travel further to see the orca (as well as conserve fuel through the fuel management system gauges).

Our Naiad RIB
Given that the New Zealand orca will often approach boats, it is vitally important that the engine is quiet so as to minimize disturbance. Whilst alongside the orca during their hunting periods or travelling slowly with them as they sleep the Yamaha engine allows us to be confident that we limit our disturbance of the orca.


If you wish to travel with Dr Visser, see the Whale Trail section, for the
trip of a life-time.

Dr Visser is in demand as a guest speaker. Many of the functions she is
booked for are events closed to the public (e.g., school-class talks, or
members-only club nights).

However, public talks are also scheduled. Any pending & current events are
listed below. If you would like to hear Dr Visser give one of her
inspirational talks (which are illustrated with stunning images of the orca
she works with), keep an eye on this site.

We will update it when public talks are confirmed.

Alternatively, consider arranging and booking a talk yourself. Please use
the booking form on this page. You can either use the pdf (in the viewer
below) or 'Word' document (link at the bottom of the page). Thank you for
your interest.

Send your request instantly! Link to the online interactive form here.

Click here to access Invitation to Speak Document in Word Format
                       Whale Trail Link