Calls flood in as effort to save lost orca off NZ coast intensifies

·News and Video Producer
·3-min read

As darkness falls across New Zealand, the search is wrapping up for another day in the quest to find a lost baby orca’s family.

Helicopters have spent their fourth day searching the rugged Kapiti Coast for his pod, thought to be between six and seven individuals, however they have proved difficult to spot in the choppy waters.

Internet users have been sharing the calf’s story, hoping to increase the network of people who know of his plight and that someone will spot his family, with some using the hashtag #SaveTheOrca.

Carers are looking after the orca around the clock. Source: Michael Coleman / Whale-Rescue.org
Carers are looking after the orca around the clock. Source: Michael Coleman / Whale-Rescue.org

Members of Whale-Rescue.org have contributed know-how to the army of volunteers helping in the search, and co-founder Jo “Floppy” Halliday has been manning the phones throughout the day.

“Sadly we’ve had lots of calls come in throughout the day, and we’ve had helicopters going out, but we still have not managed to locate any orca,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

“It’s a bit of a slow process, and we’re going to have to try again tomorrow.”

Despite the lack of progress, she remains hopeful the orca's family will be found. 

How the orca became stranded on the New Zealand coast

Believed to be between four and six months old, the orca became stranded on rocks on Sunday and was rescued by 16-year-old Ben Norris and his sister at Plimmerton, north of Wellington. 

Speaking with Yahoo News Australia on Monday, Mr Norris said Toa was highly distressed when he first became trapped on the rocks, so he waded into the water to help.

"For the first 20 minutes it was pretty grim to listen to, he was just screaming, screaming, screaming,” he said.

Ben Norris (right) jumped into the water after seeing Toa (left) stranded on rocks. Source: Ben Norris / Brianna Norris.
Ben Norris (right) jumped into the water after seeing Toa (left) stranded on rocks. Source: Ben Norris / Brianna Norris.

World renowned orca expert Dr Ingrid Visser flew down to assist in the orca’s care, and initiated the call for people to spread word of his plight.

“We desperately need the public to keep their eyes open to, and to spread it on their own social media, so that we get a bigger network to try and find this family,” she said.

On Tuesday, as rescue efforts continued, the orca was named Toa, which means "brave" or "strong" in a naming ceremony by the region's Maori iwi, the Ngati Toa. 

What's next for New Zealand's stranded orca

Now receiving around the clock care from a dedicated team, he has been corralled into a temporary pen alongside a wharf. 

Toa has received ongoing care since she lost her pod on Sunday. Source: Whale-Rescue.org
Toa has received ongoing care since she lost her pod on Sunday. Source: Whale-Rescue.org

He has received assisted feeding from a vet to keep up his strength, and is said to be in a stable condition.

Deteriorating weather is predicted in the coming days and efforts are being made to secure the area for the safety of both the orca and volunteer rescuers.

With the community getting behind the volunteers and providing them with food and shelter, Department of Conservation Marine Species Manager Ian Angus paid tribute all involved in Toa’s care.

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

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

Anyone with information about orcas swimming on New Zealand’s North Island’s west coast, between Wellington and Taranak, is urged to contact DOC on 0800 DOC HOT.

They urge anyone who sees the pod to take images and video, note any markings on their dorsal fins and write down the direction of their travel.

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