Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication. 


A tactical team set up to respond to the plight of an abandoned orca is yet to receive reports of nearby orca pods to which the young calf might belong.

Date:  01 August 2016

Recreational and commercial boat operators are being asked via the coastguard’s marine radio to report sightings of orca pods in the Bay of Plenty region to the Orca Research Trust by phoning: O800 SEE ORCA (0800 733 6722).

The decision to enlist the coastguard’s support was made by the Orca Tactical Planning Group (OTPG) made up of members from a broad range of disciplines, backgrounds and cultures. They bring to the table a number of diverse skills, and are working together to achieve the best possible result for the whale.

The OTPG includes DOC, iwi representatives Reon Tuanau and Carlton Bidois, Orca Research Trust representatives and key community stakeholders.

 “It is vital our people are involved in this situation. All of us have unique traditions and whakapapa connections to tohora. They are part of our identity. We have tikanga processes involving tohora that we want to ensure are respected and observed throughout the course of this kaupapa. We have our own whale experts. They have a lot to offer because while they are well versed in the sciences and those sorts of areas, they are also knowledge holders of ancient matauranga in relation to the tohora.

"We also know our local environmental conditions including knowledge about our inshore orca whanau units and when they typically visit the harbour and where they often hang out to feed, where the best orca food is in Tauranga Harbour and the likes, so our people bring huge value in that space as well. We have access to resources and facilities that will be critical to a successful intervention”, says Carlton Bidois of Ngati Ranginui.

A karakia ceremony led by Ngaiterangi Iwi liaison Reon Tuanau has been held on the shoreline near the orca calf.

“The karakia places a protective cloak over the orca calf and the work the Orca Tactical Planning Group is doing to support this taonga,” says Reon Tuanau.

“We’re really grateful to Tauranga Coastguard for helping the OTPG with one of our goals - seeing if we can find this lone orca calf’s family pod", says DOC Orca Incident Controller John Lucas.

“This group is in agreement that reuniting the lone orca calf with its family pod is the key to its long term survival in the wild.”

“The difficulty we all face is finding the young orca’s family pod as there have been no indications where the calf has come from,” says John Lucas.

Pivotal to the work of the OTPG is the expertise of Dr Ingrid Visser and Jeff Foster who have taken a DNA sample from the orca to help in this goal of reuniting the orca calf with its family pod.  Dr Visser is the founder of the Orca Research Trust and Jeff Foster is an international orca expert on rehabilitation.

“This was like collecting dandruff from a human. The skin flake will be used for DNA sampling to see if the calf belongs to the orca population living around New Zealand,” says Dr Visser.

Dr Visser and Jeff Foster also took a sample from the orca’s breath by holding a plastic disk with an agar solution, above the animal’s blow hole. The agar captures particles in the orca’s breath.

The breath sample will be sent to a laboratory to test for bacteria, pathogens and fungi that maybe having a harmful effect on the orca.

It will take several days to get the results of the breath sample and DNA sampling.

Residents are currently providing accommodation, transport and provisions for the Orca Research Trust team and expert personnel bought in to assist with this task.

“Community members have appreciated the opportunity to work proactively with the local iwi, the Orca Research Trust, DOC and United States orca specialists in what has been described as a 'once in a lifetime' event”, says local resident Sue Baker Wilson.

The OTPG was formed to manage the key issues threatening the orca’s long term survival in the wild. It is exploring measures that may enable the orca to survive on its own and looking at ways of locating the young orca’s family pod. 

Background information 

The killer whale/orca is the largest member of the dolphin family. New Zealand is home to an estimated 150–200 individuals, which travel long distances throughout the country’s coastal waters. Orca are typically encountered in family groups or pods, which usually form for life.

It is an offence to swim within 100 m of an orca, and vessels should stay at least 50 m away.  


Caraline Abbott, DOC Supervisor, Community
Mobile: +64 21 0296 5019

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