'Desperate need': How YOU can help in lost orca search

·News and Video Producer
·4-min read

A baby orca is being comforted by rescuers after it became separated from its family off the New Zealand coast yesterday.

The small marine mammal was initially stranded on rocks at 12:30pm (local time) but was re-floated by a group of volunteers. 

Kept inside a trailer over night for safety, groups of six people in wetsuits are now working in rotational shifts, while around 100 people are watching from the shore in Plimmerton, north of Wellington.

A baby orca on rocks in New Zealand
The baby orca became stranded on rocks on the New Zealand coast and was separated from his family. Source: Ben Norris

World-renowned cetacean expert Dr Ingrid Visser spoke to Yahoo News Australia from the scene this morning, saying the animal was doing “remarkably well”.

“He’s alert and he’s responsive. He was a little bit stressed during the night a couple of times, but you can’t blame him,” she said.

“He's been separated from his mum, and he doesn't understand what's going on, but he's doing really well at the moment.”

Social media users can help in search for orca's family

Dr Visser said the Maritime Police, Coast Guard and Department of Conservation (DOC) have been involved in the search, with the surrounding community on on “high alert” searching for the orca’s family.

While those with planes have donated their time to help, Dr Visser said there's one simple thing people at home can do to help locate his family.

“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.

Volunteers floated the orca and are now caring for it in shifts. Source: Supplied
Volunteers floated the orca and are now caring for it in shifts. Source: Supplied

DOC Marine Species Manager Ian Angus told Yahoo News Australia that the young orca is estimated to be between four and six months old and would still require milk from his mum.

"While orca strand in New Zealand on a semi-regular basis, it is unusual but not unprecedented for a calf to strand alone," he said.

Rescue groups including Whale-Rescue.org and Project Jonah helicopter assisted yesterday, while DOC commissioned a fixed winged aircraft and a helicopter to aid in the search today. 

Anyone in New Zealand who sees the orca’s family are asked to call the DOC helpline on 0800 362 468.

'He's a hero': 16-year-old boy comforts crying orca

Plimmerton boy Ben Norris was riding his bike, watching the pod of six or seven orcas feeding close to the shore, when the calf was washed onto the rocks. 

"He was facing inland, and so he just kept kicking further and further up until he got caught," Mr Norris said.

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

"He was yelling half in the water and then the water would go out and you'd just hear it. It was really loud." 

About 20 minutes later Mr Norris was joined by volunteers including his 21-year-old sister Brianna Norris.

With their help, the 16-year-old then spent the next four hours comforting the young orca and trying to re-float him.

For the first two hours the volunteers braved the 13.4 degrees Celsius water without wetsuits. 

16-year-old Ben Norris in the icy New Zealand waters with the lost calf as the search continues today. Source: Brianna Norris
16-year-old Ben Norris in the icy New Zealand waters with the lost calf as the search continues today. Source: Brianna Norris

"We tried to re-float him twice, alongside the fire brigade, who helped with a tarpaulin to try and float him," Ms Norris said.

"He needed to find his balance and equilibrium, but we didn't have enough time to do that because the water was pushing him back on the rocks."

Concerned the orca was getting injured on the rocks, he was taken brought inside and reassessed. 

Once stable, he was driven out to sea with a boat in an attempt to reunite him with his family, but despite his cries they are yet to return. 

"He's not distressed or crying any more which is great," Ms Norris said. 

"Ben was fantastic the whole way, and immediately called DOC and the police, and he's done everything he can to assist the baby.

"He's a hero."

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