It looked pretty sad, says tangled orca's saviour

By Elizabeth Binning

Rhys Cochrane, 19, on the beach at Hahei. Photo / Alan Gibson
Rhys Cochrane, 19, on the beach at Hahei. Photo / Alan Gibson

Rhys Cochrane didn't hesitate to jump into the ocean to help an injured orca that was trapped by the rope of a crayfish pot several hundred metres off the Coromandel coast.

The 19-year-old diver said he wasn't scared, but admits that changed slightly when the orca's pod of mates, which were swimming nearby, decided to come over and try to help.

"He was pretty tired and sore and didn't really react as he would in the wild so I jumped in but a few moments after I jumped in the other pod came around. There were massive ones, like five metres, so I started to get a little bit scared because they were big and healthy.

"One of them was trying to help the other one and was shunting the rope with its nose."

The Hahei man was at home with his father, Russ Cochrane, on Tuesday afternoon when DoC rang his mother, who was working at the family's dive shop, asking if they would be able to help free the entangled orca.

Mr Cochrane and his father jumped in their boat and quickly found the orca several hundred metres offshore between Hahei and Hot Water Beach in water that was about 25m deep.

"We saw the buoy first, then splashing in the water.

"It was just coming up to the surface for air ... It looked pretty sad. I'd say it was pretty buggered from what it had been through."

Mr Cochrane believes the cray pot was on the bottom of the ocean, forcing the 4m-long orca to drag it to the surface each time it needed to come up for air. The orca appeared pretty calm, despite having visible injuries on its head, tail and body - and being very vocal.

"It would have definitely hurt him ... There were rope marks [on its head] and around its body and the tail. The rope was cutting quite far into its flesh."

Mr Cochrane said he dived under the surface to investigate with a video camera before going back down to remove the rope, while the orca's mates looked on.

"I was trying to cut it off then the pod came around and I got a little bit scared but then I just went back down, grabbed on to its tail and wrapped my legs around the rope and cut it off."

He said the rope came off quickly but it took the slightly stunned orca a few seconds to realise it was free again.

"He kinda sat there for five or 10 seconds then swam away pretty quickly."

Russ Cochrane said he was not concerned about his son's safety and described the experience as "once in a lifetime".

He said footage they recorded and posted online yesterday had resulted in calls from journalists from as far away as America who wanted to know more about the rescue.

- NZ Herald

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