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In the days since a 16-year-old New Zealand boy ran into the water to save a stranded baby orca, they have formed a special bond.
Video shot next to the wharf at Plimmerton, north of Wellington, shows Ben Norris cradling the young orca, which has been named Toa.
Embracing in New Zealand’s freezing waters, the long haired young man and the juvenile marine mammal appear to be dancing as they bob up and down.
Since rescuing the orca, other volunteers working to keep the animal healthy say it has grown a special attachment to Ben.
Local volunteer Allie Burns has been donating her time to monitor Toa’s breathing, counting the seconds between his breaths and ensuring he remains calm.
When the young orca becomes upset Ben is one of people that carers turn to in order to relax him.
“Ben’s awesome. He just goes in the water with him every time they do feeding,” Ms Burns said.
Ben's mum describes connection her son has with orca
Described as a hero by his family, Ben spent 20 minutes alone with the the juvenile orca, named Toa, in bitingly cold waters on Sunday.
Even after family members including his mother, Emma Norris, the fire brigade, and experienced rescuers arrived to help, Ben stayed in the ocean, trying to calm the young orca, for a total of four hours.
Ms Norris told Yahoo News Australia she believes Toa, believed to be between four and six months old, is craving the affection of warm blooded mammals as he is missing his parents.
“When Ben's there, he has a really nice connection. It's quite beautiful to watch,” she said.
Having also spent time in the water with Toa, she has felt how special he is first-hand.
“You’re in there and you completely leave him alone until he comes to you, but he definitely comes in and puts his weight into your legs like he's coming in for a cuddle,” she added.
Despite the closeness of their bond, Ms Norris remains hopeful the young animal will be free again and reunited with his parents, agreeing that captivity is no place for the young animal.
Concern as weather forecasted to deteriorate
Toa is receiving around the clock care from cetacean expert Dr Ingrid Visser, Whale-Rescue.org and the Department of Conservation (DOC).
Dr Visser has also been observed communicating with the young mammal and when she calls to him, he sounds back.
Confined in a pen for his safety, reports suggest that the weather is beginning to turn, and the DOC is making arrangements for his care.
With gale force winds and expected swells of up to four metres, a temporary holding pool is being erected, the department’s Marine Species Manager Ian Angus said.
“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 certainly not a long-term solution,” he said in a statement.
“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.”
Mr Angus confirmed that Toa’s welfare remains the department’s core focus and that there have been no further sightings today of orca pods.
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