Video footage has revealed an adult male orca thought to have been freed from a crayfish pot still has line wrapped multiple times around his pectoral fins.
Orca Research Trust scientist Dr Ingrid Visser said the orca was still in life-threatening danger and revealed today footage clearly showed the crayfish line was still wrapped around both pectoral fins.
The adult male orca, which first became entangled in a crayfish pot line, near Tutukaka Harbour on December 23 last year, was finally cut free, five days later in the afternoon of December 27.
• Police escort entangled orca as rescuers race against time to free it from cray pot line
• Injured orca captured near Waiheke as rescuers work to free it
• Efforts underway to free orca trapped in cray pot line in Whangārei Harbour
Rescue attempts were made at Taiharuru, Whangārei Harbour and Auckland Harbour and the release was conducted at Waiheke Island by Department of Conservation staff and the Orca Research Trust.
The orca travelled more than 270km, during which he carried the wire mesh crayfish pot the whole time.
It was wrapped around his right pectoral fin.
Visser said she now had "grave concerns" for its welfare as the rope was embedded in his flesh causing "extreme pain and a slow death".
"This is why it is vital that the public report any and all sightings of orca to 0800 SEE ORCA."
She estimated between 3m and 5m of rope remained wrapped tightly around the whale.
Asked whether, two weeks on, it would still be alive, Visser said "I have grave concerns for his welfare and I'm devastated that he is still entangled despite our earlier efforts".
"Time is critical and it's going to take a co-ordinated effort to assist him."
Visser said they only became aware of the extent of the continued entanglement after carrying out a review of the rescue which included watching video they took on the day.
"I was operating in good faith with DoC who informed me that they had cut the line.
"When the whale broke free I had concerns that there was line still attached but I had hoped that it would fall off him.
"Reviewing the footage from the event now reveals the extent to which he was entangled and clearly that line will not come free without further assistance."
Visser said she had been searching for the whale without success and admitted, two weeks on from their rescue, the orca "could be anywhere".
"As we currently don't know where he is it may take a nationwide search and a co-ordinated effort once he is located.
"A meeting with DoC should help speed this process up."
DoC were equally as concerned for the orca's welfare after learning of the new infomration yesterday.
DoC senior maring ranger Dr Cat Peters said she was disappointed not to have had access to the underwater footage of the orca prior to yesterday.
"During the attempted disentanglement DoC was hopeful the operation had been successful, but could not guarantee this due to visibility of the line. This was communicated at the time and requests for sightings of the orca were requested so we could monitor the situation," Peters said
DoC's specialist disentanglement team had beenplaced on standby to respond should the orca be spotted.
Peters asked members of the public to report any sightings to 0800 DOCHOT.