Whale expert joins discussion on stranded orca

Whale expert joins discussion on stranded orca

An American whale expert has met with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and local iwi in Tauranga to decide what to do with a baby orca separated from its pod.

Fears are growing for the safety of the calf, and the expert warns a decision on whether to help it needs to be made quickly.

At sea, home alone - the orca calf is only six to 12-months-old.

Jeff Foster is a former orca capturer turned rescuer and helped return Keiko - the star whale in Free Willy - back to the wild.

He arrived in New Zealand from Seattle yesterday to lend his expertise.

"They're a lot like little children at that age - exploring, looking around - and like human children sometimes they get lost in the woods, and I think this one's just lost," he said.

Mr Foster took part in a meeting with DOC and local iwi on Friday morning to discuss their options.

"We have three of them - let Mother Nature take its course, which is a long slow death, we can euthanise the animal, or [we can] intervene."

Intervention would involve feeding the animal and then somehow trying to reconnect it with a pod passing by the harbour - a process fraught with difficulties.

The orca has been somewhere in the Tauranga Harbour for more than two weeks - DOC won't say exactly where it is because it doesn't want people approaching it.

They say it's a situation they've never encountered before, and it's complicated.

A tactical group was formed after today's meeting to work out the next step, but time is of the essence.

"It's swimming freely, and its health is deteriorating because basically it's not feeding itself," Mr Foster said.

"We only have a week before it gets to the point where maybe it'll be difficult to say whether his health will respond to any treatment we give him."

The best possible outcome is to reunite the calf with a pod - but there's no guidebook on the best process for getting there.