Date: 16 July 2021
On Sunday, the orca calf – estimated to be between four and six months old – was stranded on rocks near Plimmerton, north of Wellington. An ongoing operation to care for the orca calf is being led by the DOC with support from Orca Research Trust/Whale Rescue Trust, local iwi Ngāti Toa Rangatira, and the local community.
Ian Angus, DOC’s Marine Species Manager, says the site has been secured for the welfare of the animal, and the safety of people involved in operation.
“The weather here is worsening, we’ve had to move the orca calf into a holding pool as a temporary measure, as the conditions are making rehabilitation increasingly challenging to manage,” he says.
“We appreciate and respect the outpouring of support for our work here, but we’ve closed the site to all but those directly involved in the ongoing operation.”
The orca calf was shifted into a temporary holding pool around 8pm on Thursday 15 July as sea swells increased and concerns grew the animal would be buffeted against fixed structures around its temporary pen – including two wooden wharves and a concrete slip ramp.
Shifting the animal to the temporary holding pool was done with a specialised stretcher, and it was gently lowered into the pool. The number of volunteers in the pool with the animal is less than those who had been caring for it in its temporary wharf-side sea pen. The pool holds 32,000 litres of seawater but is not a long-term solution for the calf.
The calf has fed three times since being moved into the temporary pool and veterinarians have been continuing with health assessments. The orca calf currently appears stable.
The decision to move the calf to the temporary pool has been made in the best interests of the calf’s welfare, but it has put additional stress on the orca.
The welfare of the orca, particularly while it is in the temporary holding pool, is a key factor in clearing and securing the site. Reducing the number of people and the noise around the orca will help reduce stress.
Metservice forecasts winds increasing to gale force in the Wellington region today, with rain also predicted later. Sea swells are expected to be as high as 4m in coming days.
Ian Angus says the efforts to save the calf – and reunite it with a pod – have now stretched on beyond what would be normal for a marine mammal stranding and planning for a range of scenarios continues.
“We’ve reached a very delicate stage of this effort and all options remain on the table for us – and today we will be discussing those.”
There have been no reported sightings of orca pods in the wider lower North Island west coast area and there are no air or sea search efforts expected today due to the weather.
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