By RNZ

Rescuers have freed an orca tangled in a crayfishing line east of Waiheke Island.

Orca Research Trust founder and principal scientist Ingrid Visser says the orca was freed at 4.17pm this afternoon.

The male orca was first spotted off Tutukaka on December 23 caught in the line - which still had a buoy attached.

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The line continued to cut deeper into the young adult male, and would have eventually severed its fin and killed it.

This adult male orca tangled up in a cray pot line in Northland has now been secured off Waiheke as efforts are made to cut the lines. Photo / Orca Research Trust
This adult male orca tangled up in a cray pot line in Northland has now been secured off Waiheke as efforts are made to cut the lines. Photo / Orca Research Trust

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Several attempts to free the orca this week have been unsuccessful.

Ingrid Visser from Orca Research Trust said the team had managed to secure the injured animal off the eastern end of Waiheke this afternoon using a system called kegging.

"Basically you hook onto the original line that's wrapped around the whale and then you attach inflatable buoys to the new keg line that we have on and that means that it also helps keep the whale near the surface.

"He did actually still have the cray pot attached to him so we've managed to remove that, so that reduced the chances of him drowning.

The rescuers had to wait until the killer whale tired to cut him free using a special hook.

The orca that was entangled in a craypot line near Tutukaka on 23 December and made is way to Auckland, spotted here by the Devonport Maritime Museum. Photo / Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari
The orca that was entangled in a craypot line near Tutukaka on 23 December and made is way to Auckland, spotted here by the Devonport Maritime Museum. Photo / Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari

"We have special hooks that allow us to get very close to the flesh - they're very soft, rounded edges on the outside and then on the inside of the hook it's very sharp so we can get it underneath the line and that meant that we don't cut into his flesh.

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The rescue mission was conducted from inflatable boats, as it was believed too dangerous to the orca - a member of the dolphin family - to have people in the water with it as it may cause the orca to dive deeper and possibly drown.

She said the Department of Conservation's disentanglement team and rangers, Coastguard and police all helped in the rescue.

Cat Peters, DOC Senior Ranger Biodiversity, said: "We watched the orca swim well and take several breaths after being freed. It remains in the area. It's tired from the ordeal and still needs space from the public so it can heal. The other orca were further away but he was calling, talking to them the whole time, and we're confident they could hear each other.

"This is a fantastic result after five days hard work, and a real team effort."

- RNZ