Two sightings of groups of killer whales off the coast of Kāpiti have not been verified, as the search for the baby Toa’s family continues.
The two reported sightings of a pod were off the coast of Kāptiti, one near Kāpiti Island, on Wednesday morning.
But the Department of Conservation’s director of marine species Ian Angus said the sightings could not be verified.
The four- to six-month-old orca calf has stranded near Plimmerton, north of Wellington, and since then hundreds of volunteers have cared for him while others try to locate his group.
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Experts said he was too young to take care of himself and his best hope was to reunite him with his group or find another group to take care of him.
Another group has been spotted off the coast of Taranaki, but it is not known if this is the same one from which Toa was separated.
The DOC, Whale Rescue / Orca Rescue Trust and the local Ngāti Toa iwi were working to confirm the sighting before further decisions were made.
The weather in Wellington is expected to deteriorate in the coming days, as work is underway to strengthen the structures used by volunteers and professionals on site. Upgrading the temporary enclosure in which Toa is kept is also part of the planning and ongoing work at the site.
“The prospect of reuniting the calf with its pod is encouraging, but we have to keep all of our options open,” Angus said.
The calf was doing well, considering what it had been through, he said.
“If we believe his health has been compromised, we will have to make some tough decisions. “
Two vets were on site, doing blood tests and a physical exam. Previous blood test results showed mild anemia, but since the calf had not been fed by its mother for days and had had a stressful experience, that was to be expected. International experts have been consulted.
The calf had been given fluids and electrolytes, but drawing blood from an orca was a specialized skill. “Thin skin, thick fat, then a layer of muscle,” Angus said.
But by the time the boat got out, night was falling and the search was cut short. Now the pod could be anywhere.
Orca could travel up to 300 kilometers a day, Angus said, but there was hope that because they had lost a limb they would move slower and could stick around.
The bond between mother and calf was strong, he said, and the killer whale has been shown to cry for extended periods of time after losing a family member.
Anyone who spotted a pod of orcas, anywhere between Wellington and Whanganui, was asked to stay with the group as long as possible, report the location and direction of the group’s travel, take photos and videos, and share with 0800 DOC HOT or wellington @ doc.govt.nz as soon as possible.
Justin Stretch (Ngāti Toa) lives on the hill overlooking the bay and saw Toa’s pod in the harbor.
“I was filming them from my balcony crossing the bay,” he said. “We usually watch them turn the stingrays as they go for additional feeding.”
But on Sunday, the pod stopped. “We kind of knew something was wrong.”
Shortly after, he received a message saying there had been a grounding. “There was community action fast enough to get him back here. ”
Once Toa was moved from the stranding site, Stretch joined scientist Ingrid Visser and the crew, and the 24/7 monitoring of Toa’s health began. “Every breach had to be watched, every tail swing and vocalizations.”
At least four volunteers are in the water with the killer whale at all times to prevent it from bumping its nose against the sides of the enclosure, and two observers are seated in the shelter of a makeshift windbreak , counting the number of times Toa arrives for air each minute.
Boating club rooms are open day and night, tables stocked with muffins and hot drinks for volunteers, while locals drop off towels and wetsuits to lend to the cause.
About 100 people took part in the operation to take care of the killer whale and find its family.
Monitoring his health was important, because on Monday, when he was first put in the water, “it was pretty clear that he always favored that right side, he was basically going around in circles making donuts”, he said. declared Stretch.
And a lot of that, too, is just for him to have a social context. The volunteers weren’t his group, but being around other beings was better than nothing.
“He’s a baby, and they desperately need someone to rely on.”
For mana whanua, the little orc had a special meaning. “We regard them as whānau, tupuna. And especially for a baby like this, at a young age, this protective and nurturing instinct comes into play. “
Visser, founder and principal scientist of the Orca Research Trust, said the New Zealand killer whale has its own distinct dialect, much like people around the world who speak the same language, but with a different accent.
What did the individual sounds mean? “If we only knew that …” she laughs.
“These calls that you have heard are just contact calls. Distress calls sound completely different, higher-pitched, more shrill.