Stranded baby orca Toa will be moved into a sea pen as the search for the calf's pod reaches 12 days.
The orca was stranded on rocks near Plimmerton, north of Wellington, on July 11. An ongoing operation to care for the calf is being led by the Department of Conservation with support from Orca Research Trust, local iwi Ngāti Toa Rangatira, and the local community.
DoC marine species manager Ian Angus says the orca calf's health has been assessed and vets have determined that it would be in its best interests to return it to a larger area. Toa is currently being held at a temporary pool at Plimmerton Boating Club.
"The calf has injuries to his pectoral fins and tail fluke and needs to stretch out in deeper water. It also has an issue with an inflamed eye which vets believe would respond better in saltwater," he says.
The calf has also been more lethargic on Thursday and isn't vocalising as much as it previously has been.
DoC is also checking water quality in the harbour before allowing people and the orca back into the sea.
"We are also keeping a close eye on the weather forecast but we are aiming to return the orca calf to the sea pen this evening. Because it is close to nightfall, we are keeping people at the site to a minimum required for health and safety reasons," Angus says.
The Plimmerton Boating Club site is still closed to the public to help reduce stress for the orca calf.
"Again, we are in a dynamic and challenging situation for us to manage. Decisions are being made keeping the safety of people in mind, and the orca calf's wellbeing and health is a priority."
Angus says DoC still needs sightings of orca pods, preferably alongside photos or video if possible. Photos and videos are "crucial" because the calf's pod can be identified based on markings on the animals.
Any sightings of orca around New Zealand can be reported to DOC HOT on 0800 362 468 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.
DoC says it's particularly interested in pods in the North Island since they are the most likely to be related to Toa. If the pod is in the lower North Island or Marlborough region, this would give the "best chance" of successfully reuniting the calf.