Thursday, June 13, 2024

Orca search hit by bad weather

Preparing for deteriorating weather and sea conditions is the focus of efforts at the site north of Wellington where a stranded orca calf is being kept in a temporary pen and cared for by rescuers.

The orca calf – believed to be between four and six months old – stranded on rocks at Plimmerton on Sunday afternoon. Volunteers from Whale Rescue/Orca Research Trust, the Department of Conservation (DOC) and local iwi Ngati Toa Rangatira are working together in a complex operation to keep the calf healthy and stable.

Ian Angus, Department of Conservation (DOC) Marine Species Manager, says the weather in the area is forecast to worsen over the next 24 hours, so planning is underway to strengthen the orca’s temporary pen. Metservice predicts northerly winds rising to gale force for the region on 16 July. Swells are expected to rise to one metre.

“We cannot control the weather and sea conditions, and with the forecast for the region we are now planning how we can ensure the welfare of the calf,” Mr Angus said.

“The health and safety of the people contributing to this effort is also paramount and that’s something we’re managing closely too.”

Yesterday’s sightings of orca pods off the western coast of the lower North Island have not been verified. There have been no reported orca pod sightings this morning and the sea and air search has been halted pending more reported sightings.

Mr Angus says the support at the wharf has been significant, but with worsening weather people are urged to keep away unless they are directly involved with the operation.

“People are also asked not to fly drones over the site as it can disturb the calf,” he said.

DOC, veterinarians and Whale Rescue/Orca Research Trust are receiving regular advice from international orca experts and veterinarians – information proving vital as decisions are made. The calf was fed this morning and it remains stable.

Anyone who sights orca pods off the lower North Island’s west coast – particularly between Wellington and Taranaki – is urged to provide as much information as possible to DOC, via wellington@doc.govt.nz or by calling 0800 DOC HOT. Essential information includes location of the pod, direction of travel of the animals, and photographs or videos which clearly show the saddle/back markings of the animals and their dorsal fins.

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