Sydney, Australia (EFE).- New Zealand conservationists were searching for a pod of orcas sighted off the North Island’s southwest coast on Wednesday in an effort to reunite a lost calf with its family.
The baby orca was discovered stranded on rocks in Plimmerton, about 28 kilometers northwest of Wellington, on Sunday afternoon.
It is thought to be between four and six months old, and has been informally named Toa, Maori for brave, by the local iwi (tribe).
Toa has since been ‘babysat’ around the clock by volunteer locals in a makeshift sea pen and in cold mid-winter conditions as environmental authorities as well as the public search for his pod.
On Wednesday there were two reported sightings of a pod off the Kapiti Coast, north of Plimmerton, prompting searches by both sea and air, but which in the end were unsuccessful, the Department of Conservation (DOC) said in a statement.
Another sighting was reported off Taranaki region, over 320 kilometers further up the west coast, which was being verified.
DOC Marine Species Manager Ian Angus said it was important to verify the sightings in the face of a logistically challenging operation, given the very young age of the calf, as wall as factors of weather, sea conditions, available sunlight and the location of the pod from the shore.
Weather conditions are expected to deteriorate in the coming days so improvements will be made to the temporary pen in which the infant orca is being kept.
Earlier Wednesday Toa received more veterinarian-assisted feeding – a mix of electrolytes, nutrients and fish oil – and the calf remains stable, and “although showing some signs of stress, it is generally exhibiting normal behavior for an animal its age,” DOC said.
It is hoped that the calf can be reunited with its family pod, or another.
New Zealand is home to 150-200 orcas or killer whales, which are listed as Nationally Critical.
Pods are often seen in Wellington Harbor and along the Kapiti Coast throughout spring and summer, however July is the middle of winter. EFE