Orca calf's family still missing

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The orca calf which was separated from its pod in the Bay of Plenty. Photo/Supplied
The orca calf which was separated from its pod in the Bay of Plenty. Photo/Supplied

Protectors of an orca calf have been unable to locate its family pod.

A tactical team set up to respond to the plight of an abandoned orca are yet to receive reports of nearby orca pods to which the young calf might belong.

The Orca Tactical Planning Group has enlisted the help of Tauranga Coastguard to try and locate the calf's pod.

DOC Orca Incident Controller John Lucas said reuniting the lone orca calf with its family pod was the key to its long term survival in the wild.

"The difficulty we all face is finding the young orca's family pod as there have been no indications where the calf has come from."

Orca Tactical Planning Group iwi representative Carlton Bidois of Ngati Ranginui said it was vital iwi were involved in this situation.

"All of us have unique traditions and whakapapa connections to tohora [whales]. They are part of our identity. We have tikanga processes involving tohora that we want to ensure are respected and observed throughout the course of this kaupapa."

Mr Bidois said the iwi had its own whale experts that had a lot to offer.

"While they are well versed in the sciences and those sorts of areas, they are also knowledge holders of ancient matauranga [knowledge] in relation to the tohora. We also know our local environmental conditions including knowledge about our inshore orca whanau units and when they typically visit the harbour and where they often hang out to feed, where the best orca food is in Tauranga Harbour and the likes, so our people bring huge value in that space as well.

"We have access to resources and facilities that will be critical to a successful intervention."

Ngaiterangi iwi liaison Reon Tuanau led a karakia ceremony on the shoreline near the orca calf, which he said placed a protective cloak over the orca calf and the work the Orca Tactical Planning Group was doing.

Experts Dr Ingrid Visser and Jeff Foster have taken a DNA sample from the orca to help in reuinte the orca calf with its family pod.

Dr Visser is the founder of the Orca Research Trust and Jeff Foster is an international orca expert on rehabilitation.

"This was like collecting dandruff from a human. The skin flake will be used for DNA sampling to see if the calf belongs to the orca population living around New Zealand," Dr Visser said.

Dr Visser and Mr Foster also took a sample from the orca's breath by holding a plastic disk with an agar solution, above the animal's blow hole. The agar captures particles in the orca's breath.

The breath sample would be sent to a laboratory to test for bacteria, pathogens and fungi that could have a harmful effect on the orca.

It would take several days to get the results of the breath sample and DNA sampling.

Residents were providing accommodation, transport and provisions for the Orca Research Trust team and expert personnel bought in to assist with this task.

Local resident Sue Baker Wilson said community members appreciated the opportunity to work proactively with the local iwi, the Orca Research Trust, DOC and United States orca specialists in the "once in a lifetime" event.

Recreational and commercial boat operators are being asked via the coastguard's marine radio to report sightings of orca pods in the Bay of Plenty region to the Orca Research Trust by phoning: O800 SEE ORCA or 0800 733 6722

- Bay of Plenty Times

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