It’s been 10 days since Toa was separated from his pod in Plimmerton, near Wellington. 

Since then, the calf has been looked after by Department of Conservation (DOC) staff, vets and volunteers at a special saltwater pool in Porirua. It’s also been fed electrolytes through a special tube by vets. 

Toa, believed to be between four and six months old, was initially put into a temporary enclosure near a wharf at Hongoeka when it was found stranded on rocks on July 11. Bad weather prompted a shift to the special pool on July 15. 

In the past 10 days, searches for Toa’s mother and pod have taken place - including by air and water. Sightings of orcas off the coast of Taranaki, in the Marlborough Sounds, and near Seatoun and Makara have all been reported.

Despite that, Toa’s ongoing separation from its pod has raised ethical questions regarding its care among animal rights and health experts. 

Dr Arnja Dale, the SPCA’s chief scientific officer, highlighted the difficulty of a young calf like Toa being away from its pod for a prolonged period. 

“[Toa] is too young to survive in the wild alone and animal welfare science has clearly demonstrated that we cannot meet the welfare needs, or provide a good life, for orca in captivity due to their complex social, physical and behavioural needs,” Dr Arnja said. 

"While reuniting Toa with his pod would be the best outcome and one we all hope for, if this does not happen very soon, challenging ethical decisions using a robust ethical framework will need to be made by the Department of Conservation.”

Dr Karen Stockin, professor in marine biology at Massey University, touched on the need for practical longer-term options. 

“There are no guarantees that even if Toa’s natal pod could be located, and a safe translocation were possible, that Toa himself would be accepted or even survive the process,” Dr Karen said. 

“What should remain at the forefront of our actions is his immediate welfare and long-term chance of survival.”

Ian Angus, DOC marine species manager, today said Toa had a period of distress overnight and was being monitored by vets. 

He had recovered by the morning, Ian said. 

Due to more bad weather forecast this week, it was likely Toa would remain in the temporary pool for a few days. 

“Moving the orca can create stress for it,” Ian said. 

“[Toa] may remain in the temporary pool until the weather clears later in the week, rather than moving it twice.”

Anyone who sees an orca pod should report it to [email protected] or 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).


More stories:

Mystery continues over how female eagle rays got pregnant without any males

Welcome the cyborg turtle: NZ researcher designs prosthetic fin for turtles

The sex helmet that tried to save kākāpō