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Another pod sighted – baby orca staying in temporary pool

baby orca in pool
Photo: Dept of Conservation

News from Dept of Conservation
An investigation is underway into an orca pod that has been sighted in the Marlborough Sounds. It is trying to confirm whether or not this is the pod from which the baby orca was separated last weekend.

” People in the Sounds are trying to get photographs to confirm. We welcome photographs from the public if anyone does spot the pod, but do ask them to keep a 50m distance,” says Ian Angus, Department of Conservation (DOC) Marine Species Manager.

“We had been reviewing moving the orca back into the seapen today, but we have decided not to.

“Following the storms, the Regional Council have issued a health warning advising the harbour is unsuitable for swimming. This means it would not be safe for our volunteers to go into the seapen with the orca right now. We are also keeping an eye on the weather, and there is some more rough weather forecast for Wednesday. We want to minimise the number of times we move the orca.

“We will be keeping an eye on the weather and water health advisories over the next few days, along with the orca’s health to guide a decision about when to move it back.

“This morning vets carried out standard health checks and all the results fell within normal parameters.

“Although the calf is still in a stable condition, it has been in our care for more than a week now. We are conscious this is a long time for the calf to be away from its pod and mother, and to be kept in temporary enclosures. To help reduce the stress as much as possible, we will continue to restrict access to the site and appreciate the ongoing respect and support from the public.”

Earlier News from Department of Conservation
The Porirua site where a stranded juvenile orca is being cared for in a temporary pool remains closed to the public today for safety reasons.

DOC and its operation partners are hopeful that the orca can be transferred back to the sea pen late this afternoon, weather dependent.

The bad weather over the weekend meant the orca remained in the temporary pool and is stable with successful feeding.

Ian Angus, Department of Conservation (DOC) Marine Species Manager, says the focus today is try and transfer the orca back to the sea pen, weather permitting.

There have been sightings of orca pods over the weekend, which DOC are following up.

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.

News from Department of Conservation – July 18
Weather and marine conditions are too rough to investigate yesterday’s orca pod sighting further, but will be reassessed throughout the day. Department of Conservation Marine Ecosystems Manager Kirstie Knowles says it is unlikely any attempt to reunite would take place today.

“The calf remains stable at this stage and we’re continuing to work through different options as we learn more about the calf and his condition. All decisions will draw on the best national and international expert advice with the welfare and ethics of caring for the orca at the front of mind. Public access to the boat club remains restricted as we all look to minimise stress on the calf.”

The calf has now been away from his pod for over a week after becoming stranded on rocks near Plimmerton.

Earlier News from Department of Conservation
A credible sighting of a pod of orca has been reported off the Kapiti Coast, near where the juvenile orca stranded last Sunday, but yesterday’s weather made it unsafe for further investigation.

DOC marine species manager Ian Angus says once the weather improves, a team will be able to investigate and make a plan.

“At the moment any reunion attempt would be too dangerous for both the people involved and the orca calf.”

The orca is in a stable condition and remains in the temporary pool it was transferred to on Thursday evening due to health and safety concerns with the incoming storm.

The calf has now been away from his pod for a week after becoming stranded on rocks near Plimmerton. An operation to care for the orca calf is being led by DOC with support from Orca Research Trust/Whale Rescue Trust, local iwi Ngāti Toa Rangatira, and the local community.

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 marinemammals@doc.govt.nz or by calling 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).

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.

Report from RNZ – July 17
A scientist helping to look after the orphaned orca at Plimmerton believes his family will almost certainly return, it is just not known when.

Baby orca Toa has been cared for around the clock after becoming stranded at Plimmerton Beach on Sunday afternoon.

The Department of Conservation said yesterday the operation was at a “delicate stage” with “all options … on the table” about what to do next.

Stormy weather meant Toa was transferred from a temporary pen by the shore to a portable pool. And it halted air and sea searches for orca groups for a second day – with 4m swells expected this weekend.

If Toa’s pod or another family of the animals can be found he may be able to be returned to the wild.

Orca Research Trust founder Dr Ingrid Visser said she had been keeping tabs on the baby orca’s pod for the past 25 years. “All orca are driven by the culture of their families, so they learn from their mums and their sisters and their aunties and everybody in their family. For some groups that culture might be that they would roam over big distances and they just turn up infrequently in some locations. And then for other groups they return to the same areas repeatedly.”

She said Toa was from a group that returned to the same places frequently, and the “chances are” they would return to the Plimmerton area.

“But the thing is we just don’t know when. And so, to maximise the chances of getting him back to his family we are absolutely reliant on the public reporting any sightings of orca.”

She said people should call 0800 DOC HOT if they saw any of the mammals anywhere nationwide.

There were no sightings of orca pods in the lower North Island yesterday and bad weather means there will likely be no air or sea searches this weekend.

Visser said Toa was in good condition – he was alert and had been playing with seawater as it was being pumped into the pool. Toa is a social creature and has a couple of volunteers with him in a pool 24/7 to keep him company. Visser said Toa’s time with humans would not give him a scent that would make an orca pod reject him.

“Orca don’t have a sense of smell, so we’re not going to leave our scent on him.”

DOC said there was no public access to the pool where Toa was being kept, and asked people to stay away.

abandoned baby orca Photo RNZ- Dom Thomas.

Report from RNZ – July 16
The A baby orca separated from its pod was lifted into a portable pool overnight, to protect it from rough seas. The orphan calf, named Toa, was found stranded at Plimmerton beach on Sunday afternoon.

The pool can hold 32,000 thousand litres of seawater and will protect the young whale from the swells expected today. While searches continue for his pod, he is being fed and cared for.

Department of Conservation marine species manager Ian Angus said Toa was relocated last night “as a precaution and as a temporary measure while we wait for this weather bomb to go past”.

He told Morning Report the animal had been “heavily compromised” as a result of the stranding and trauma. However, vets said the orca was looking stable this morning. “He had a feed last night, he’s moving around so although we don’t have a healthy individual. he is looking stable.”

Angus said the orca had some lacerations on its body from being washed up. “We’re doing everything we can to minimise the trauma … given what its been through.”

Helping You Help Animals Charitable Trust HUHA founder Carolyn Press-McKenzie told First Up Toa was in “really good health” and was eating well. Toa is being fed a special whale brew made by Wellington Zoo while animal rescue teams work to find its pod. It receives four litres of the zoo brew every four hours, a mixture including herring and salmon oil that is “quite smelly but apparently very delicious”.

She said the calf’s mother was in and out of the rocks probably for stingray, and that’s when Toa got pushed into the rocks. “Mum circled back around quite a few times looking for him and then left the bay.”

more baby orca
Photo: Danny Rood

News from Dept of Conservation – July 15
A portable pool will be brought on site as contingency planning continues for bad weather at the location north of Wellington where a stranded orca calf is being cared for. 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), local iwi Ngati Toa Rangatira and the community are working together in a complex operation to keep the calf healthy and stable.

Ian Angus, Department of Conservation (DOC) Marine Species Manager, says this temporary holding pool is being arranged as a safety measure with expected sea swells of up to 4m tomorrow, and potential gale force winds.

“This is a back-up plan for if we feel the sea has got too rough and the calf’s welfare, and the welfare of volunteers on site, may be compromised,” Ian Angus says.

Choppy seas and high winds mean there is a risk the calf will be buffeted into some of the structures currently forming the animal’s temporary pen.

“We’ll only move the animal into the holding pool if we have to – putting the animal into the pool would only be a temporary measure and is not a long-term solution.”

Shifting the animal to the pool would also mitigate a health and safety issue for volunteers who will be in the water caring for the calf. The pool can hold 32,000 litres of seawater.

Ian Angus re-emphasised the welfare of the animal remains at the core of all decision making as the operation continues. Vets have done their health assessments and the animal remains stable and was fed again this afternoon. He says contingency planning for a range of scenarios continues.

There have been no further reported sightings today of orca pods.

Earlier News from Department of Conservation
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 1m.

“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,” he says.

“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 sightings this morning and the sea and air search has been halted pending more reports

Ian 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.

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.

News from Department of Conservation – July 14
Efforts to reunite a stranded orca calf with its pod have continued today, without success in spite of a 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.

Ian Angus, Department of Conservation (DOC) Marine Species Manager, says 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 were seeking to confirm the sighting before further decisions are made.

Ian Angus says the likelihood of deteriorating weather in the Wellington region 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.

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

Ian Angus also 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.”

Ian 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 continue 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.

Earlier News from Department of Conservation
The search for a pod of orca off the Wellington coast has resumed today as work continues to reunite a stranded orca calf with its family. The orca calf – believed to be between four and six months old – stranded on rocks at Plimmerton on Sunday afternoon. It is remains 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.

Ian Angus, Department of Conservation (DOC) Marine Species Manager, says there have been two reported sightings of a pod off the Kapiti Coast – including a sighting this morning near Kapiti Island. DOC dispatched its own vessel to the area the pod was seen, and an aircraft is also in flight this morning as part of the search.

Ian Angus says although the sightings of the pod are encouraging, DOC wants to verify the sightings as it begins planning for what would be a logistically challenging operation.

Weather, sea conditions, available sunlight and the location of the pod from the shore are all key factors in any attempt to reunite the calf with its pod. If the pod is spotted, it will be trailed by the Whale Rescue DOC vessel for as long as possible until nightfall.

Ian Angus says the situation remains complex and challenging – particularly given the very young age of the orca.

“We’re working through planning a range of scenarios,” he says. “The prospect of reuniting the calf with its pod is encouraging, but we do need to keep all our options open.

“I want to emphasise the welfare of the calf is at the centre of all our discussions and the decisions we’re making.”

The calf received more veterinarian-assisted feeding this morning, a mix of electrolytes, nutrients and fish oil. The wildlife veterinarians says the calf remains stable and although showing some signs of stress, it is generally exhibiting normal behaviour for an animal its age.

Volunteers are in the temporary pen with the calf, working shifts to keep the animal moving and safe. Biosecurity protocols are in place for shift handovers, to ensure there is no transmission of disease.

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

Anyone who sights orca pods off the Wellington or Kapiti coast is urged to provide as much information as possible – location, direction of travel of the animals, and photographs or videos which clearly show the saddle/back markings of the animals and their dorsal fins.

Mr Angus says DOC appreciates the continued support of the public but is asking people to respect the rehabilitation efforts of the team at the site.

News from Department of Conservation – July 13
The orca calf at the centre of a rescue effort in Plimmerton remains stable tonight after specialist veterinary treatment. The orca calf – believed to be between four and six months old – stranded on rocks just north of Hongaeka marae on Sunday afternoon.

It is being kept in a temporary enclosure near a wharf at Plimmerton with volunteers from Whale Rescue and Orca Research Trust working alongside Department of Conservation and local iwi Ngati Toa Rangitira.

Ian Angus, Department of Conservation (DOC) Marine Species Manager, says the animal’s welfare remains the priority. The calf is being closely monitored and has received specialist veterinary treatment today. The animal is being provided with fluids and electrolytes by the veterinarian. More specialist veterinary assessment and further treatment has been arranged for tomorrow morning.

“Rehabilitating the animal and reuniting it with its pod remains our objective. We’re very focussed on its welfare aware of the need to ensure it isn’t suffering,” Ian Angus says.

A sighting of a pod earlier today near Raumati saw DOC dispatch a boat to confirm if it’s the family of the stranded calf. The description of the pod matches eyewitnesses reports from when the calf stranded on Sunday.

Anyone who has sighted any Orca pod is urged to stick with the pod for as long as possible, report the location and direction of the pod’s travel, and take videos or photographs – and share those via 0800 DOC HOT or wellington@doc.govt.nz

Search efforts paused tonight and will be reassessed tomorrow morning after further discussion with veterinarians.

Ian Angus says the situation remains complex and challenging – particularly given the very young age of the orca.

“We are leaving all our options open and have begun planning for various outcomes. We’re trying to make good decisions based on the best possible advice we can get from national and international experts.”

Mr Angus says DOC appreciates the continued support of the public but is asking people to respect the rehabilitation efforts of the team at site.

Earlier News from Department of Conservation
Efforts to save the orca calf stranded at Plimmerton are continuing today, with the Department of Conservation (DOC) working alongside Whale Rescue and volunteers.

Ensuring the animal remains in a reasonable condition and reuniting it with its pod remains our objective.

DOC has a vessel out at sea searching for the pod.

A local pilot has volunteered to support the search and has made one flight today. He will make a second flight this afternoon.

There has been a sighting of a pod of orca in the Marlborough Sounds. DOC is encouraging the public to report any orca pod sightings to us – the range is from the Marlborough Sounds to Whanganui.

“If anyone sees the orca pod, we’re particularly interested in location details, the direction of travel of the pod, and any clear photos of the fins, any markings on the back/saddle of the members,” says DOC’s Marine Species Manager Ian Angus.

The animal has been provided electrolytes through a tube by veterinarians. This method of feeding does cause the animal some distress but is the best option to ensure the animal remains in a reasonable condition.

“We’re working with veterinarians to gain valuable expert advice from scientists overseas.”

Ian Angus says DOC appreciates the continued support of the public but is asking people to stay clear of the site to allow us and Whale Rescue to do our work.

Earlier report from RNZ
The hunt continues this morning for the family of an abandoned baby orca north of Wellington. Whale watchers up and down the coast have been keeping watch, with hopes to reunite them.

The young male orca, which is about six months old, has been separated from his pod since being stranded at Plimmerton Beach on Sunday.

The Department of Conservation’s marine species manager, Ian Angus, told Morning Report the prime directive was to find the pod and reunite the calf, but the immediate priority was to care for its wellbeing.

He said there were veterinarians with the orca carrying out health assessments. It had some injuries from its stranding, he added.

“It’s looking in reasonable condition, given the trauma it’s been through the last couple of days – the stranding, and then with the refloatation attempt.

“We’ve got a number of volunteers in the water with the orca and I understand there’s been some really tremendous community spirit in the effort to support this rescue effort.”

He said the orca calf was reliant on its mother and hadn’t been weaned, so it was important to keep its hydration levels up. “Obviously the main objective here is to return it back to the pod, but at the moment we’ve got the two prime tasks. One is the rehabilitation of the calf, trying to get it as healthy as we can, keep stress levels down. The second one is to relocate the pod.”

He said the department would be coming up with a new plan today to find the pod. Past experience had shown the calf can survive for a while and rescuers were hoping for the best outcome.

“We’ve got days [to find the pod] we believe. Obviously, it depends on the welfare of the calf, and that’s something we’re monitoring carefully.”