New Zealand researcher's extraordinary close encounter with killer whales caught on camera

A New Zealand researcher has experienced an extraordinary close encounter with a pod of killer whales in Antarctica.

And the moment was caught on video.

Lying on her stomach on the ice, arms outstretched, Regina Eisert was surrounded by a pod of orca in Antarctica.

At the edge of the ice, she could almost touch a curious juvenile.

"As soon as we put the instruments in the water, the killer whales started showing up and looking at us, looking at the instruments and trying to figure out we were doing," she said.

The Type C killer whales, known as Charleys, travel a channel cut by an icebreaker to McMurdo Sound.

Dr Eisert is studying the Ross Sea orca's feeding patterns and population numbers, recording their sounds and capturing skin samples with a biopsy dart gun.      

"It's the same animals, over and over again. We see the same individuals and this provides a great way for us to get really close to them," she said.

It's part of groundbreaking research to test if the new Ross Sea marine protected area is working.

It's one of the world's most pristine marine environments and home to the Antarctic toothfish - a key food source for the orca.

"We have to actively show with scientific evidence, with research and monitoring, that the MPA is doing its job and effectively protecting the marine environment," Dr Eisert said.

The secret lives of killer whales, key to monitoring the southern ocean.