Monday, March 4, 2024

Search for stranded orca calf’s pod continues

Efforts to reunite a stranded orca calf with its pod have continued today, with a new reported sighting of an orca pod off the coast of Taranaki.

The orca calf – believed to be between four and six months old – stranded on rocks at Plimmerton on Sunday afternoon. It is in a temporary enclosure near a wharf at Hongoeka, with volunteers from Whale Rescue/Orca Rescue Trust working alongside Department of Conservation and local iwi Ngati Toa Rangatira.

Department of Conservation (DOC) Marine Species Manager, Ian Angus says the two reported sightings of a pod off the Kapiti Coast – including a sighting this morning near Kapiti Island – have not been verified despite searching. 

The latest sighting, reported today, occurred off the coast of Taranaki. It is not known if the orca pod is the same one the stranded calf has come from, so DOC, Whale Rescue/Orca Rescue and local iwi Ngati Toa are seeking to confirm the sighting before further decisions are made.

Mr Angus says the likelihood of deteriorating weather in the Wellington region in coming days means additional effort is being put into erecting stronger structures for the volunteers and professionals at the scene.

Improvement of the temporary pen in which the infant orca is being kept is also part of current planning and work at the site, he said.

“There is some terrific support here being delivered by some incredibly passionate people – and we’ve got to look after them, too,” Mr Angus says.

“It’s the middle of the New Zealand winter, and we need to ensure people are safe.

“The Plimmerton Boat Club has opened its doors to support our efforts and we want to publicly thank the club for helping us out. We’ve also had some fantastic assistance from Fire and Emergency NZ, who were among the first on the scene on Sunday, as well as local businesses, and the wider community.”

He also publicly thanked onlookers for maintaining a distance from the animal and its temporary pen.

“We understand people are very interested in this unfolding situation, and we appreciate the fact they’re letting us do our work.”

Mr Angus says planning for a range of scenarios, including reuniting the calf with a pod of orca, has shifted into a new phase with discussions about the logistics of moving the animal and how that would be done given the worsening weather forecast.

The calf received more veterinarian-assisted feeding this afternoon, and it remains stable. Volunteers are continuing to work shifts in the pen with the animal.

DOC, veterinarians and Orca Research Trust are receiving regular advice from international orca experts – information proving vital as decisions are made.

Anyone who sights orca pods off the lower North Island’s west coast  – 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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