Stranded orca rescue sees man stood down from duties

Newshub has obtained exclusive video of an orca rescue that cost a Coromandel harbourmaster his job.

Mat Collicott went against official advice when he rescued the struggling mammal, which had been trapped by a cray pot line.

The orca had been trapped for more than 16 hours when a group of Waikato locals headed out to help.

It was the middle of the night and the rescue took more than an hour.

"If he's panicking, get ready to drop him," one of the rescuers can be heard warning the others in the video.

But with a makeshift grapple, a crowbar hooked into the cray pot line, the orca was freed to sail off into the moonlight.

Orca rescuer Hayden Smith (Newshub.)
Orca rescuer Hayden Smith (Newshub.)

"He went off with plenty of gusto so hopefully there was plenty of juice left in the tank," Hayden Smith, one of the rescuers, told Newshub. "He was good as gold."

The stranded animal was reported to the Department of Conservation (DoC) a number of times after a fisherman noticed it at around 9:30am on Wednesday, but it was still trapped 16 hours later.

The Department of Conservation wasn't going to launch a rescue until the next morning, so the locals stepped in.

Marine expert Dr Ingrid Visser, from the Orca Research Trust, says if the orca had stayed out there it would've died.

"That animal would've been right on the brink of drowning," she told Newshub. "It's amazing that there wasn't a tragedy involved."

Dr Visser says Mr Collicott is a hero, but that isn't how the Waikato Regional Council has seen it.

Orca Research Trust Dr Ingrid Visser (Newshub.)
Orca Research Trust's Dr Ingrid Visser (Newshub.)

He was due to resign later this month but that's now been pushed forward, as he's been stood down for going against the advice from DoC.

"It's sending the wrong message - it's telling people don't help, because you're going to get into trouble, when instead we should all be saying what can we do to help," Dr Visser says.

Mr Smith says it was a good result and he stands by the rescue.

"To be able to send the big guy off swimming away happily, I think we did the right thing at the end of the day," he said.

Dr Visser says orcas are very playful animals and it's likely that's how this one got stuck.

DoC has not responded to requests for comments from Newshub, however the Waikato Regional Council says it's investigating with DoC whether any regulations were breached during the rescue.


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