Orca experts praise for locals
The team of international experts who worked so hard to rescue the orca calf found alone in Tauranga Harbour have packed up and left Ongare Point, exhausted and disappointed that they were unsuccessful.
Known by a number of nicknames including Tiger, Bob and Tama, the orca died in a land based pool in the early hours of Saturday morning, after being placed there for intensive care on Wednesday.
Bittersweet – some of the team who worked to save the orca are from left back Jim Horton, Tyler White of Ongare Point, Mike Patrica. Front Ingrid Visser, Tracy Cooper, Katy Laveck, Jeff Foster, Brad Hanson and Kate Clough.
While the young orca was a long way from full recovery, late last week signs were promising as he was fed first on electrolytes, warm water and cod liver oil, and then fresh fish smoothie.
“However, in the early hours of Saturday morning he took a turn for the worse. As we have seen in other cases, he made several fast laps of the pool and collapsed. We resuscitated him, but at 4.15am he died,” says international orca expert Jeff Foster.
A service involving local iwi, the volunteers and community was held at Ongare Point on Saturday afternoon and iwi took the body away to be buried at an undisclosed location.
Dr Ingrid Visser of New Zealand’s Orca Research Trust says the Ongare Point community then gathered around the orca team.
“They took us into a lovely home with a big open fire, fed us, exchanged stories and comforted us.”
The support of the Ongare Point community could not be faulted. It has been crucial to the entire operation, including how everyone kept tight lipped about where the orca was both while in the harbour and once he was brought ashore.
“We can’t thank the locals enough for all they have done, including giving us accommodation, keeping us fed and supplying anything we have needed, giving us the time to concentrate on the orca,” says Ingrid.
However, despite all the support, the operation has cost in excess of $30,000, funded by Ingrid’s Orca Research Trust. None of the experts nor volunteers involved have or will be paid. Ingrid admits to personally surviving on “Uncle Visa”.
A fund is being set up in memory of the orca, to help fund the costs of the operation and future orca research and responses. To donate and to find out more about orca go to www.orcaresearch.org/
When she first learned that the baby orca was swimming alone in the harbor, keeping close to a big red buoy off Ongare Point, Ingrid travelled to see him and began working on a plan for his care.
She contacted international expert Jeff for advice and he and another expert, Katy Laveck, flew to New Zealand from the US to assist.
While they could approach the orca in the harbor, they did not have permission to intervene to feed or help him.
Orca are protected marine mammal and although Ingrid, as New Zealand’s leading orca expert, has certain authorisation, she could not intervene in the case of this orca calf without permission from the Department of Conservation.
Gaining that permission was protracted, with days of meetings, requirements for Ingrid to write lengthy reports and prepare exhaustive health and safety plans – all the while the orca was becoming more emaciated, dehydrated and deprived of social contact.
Determined that the orca should have the best possible care, and even though they were yet to gain permission to intervene, Ingrid called on the help of three more international experts, Brad Hanson, Mike Partica and Jim Horton with Ingrid funding their flights to New Zealand.
Jeff says such delays are not unusual anywhere in the world where government departments, with limited budgets, are involved.
For every day the orca calf was alone in the harbour a further four to five days of intervention were required to help get him well enough to return to the wild.
Jeff and the team are convinced had they been able to bring the orca shore and into the pool earlier, he would be alive and eventually able to swim free with a wild orca pod.
While the orca’s death is not the outcome hoped for, Jeff says the team, assisted by so many volunteers, would not have done anything different – except bring him in from the harbour much sooner.
Ingrid says DOC staff, who skippered boats and helped with the on-shore operations, were fantastic in their support.
Volunteers from Waihi Mine rescue and harbour wardens and local iwi also assisted.
Brad says despite the sad outcome, much has been learnt from the experience and local people have had a once-in a life time experience to get up close and learn about orca.
That the orca died is tragic but those involved take some comfort from the fact that in his last days he was fed, felt safe and had the social interaction he craved.