A juvenile orca that got tangled in cray pot ropes was "on its last legs" before being rescued off the coast of Kaikoura yesterday.
One of the rescue team, Ian Croucher, described an "amazing scene" when he and three Department of Conservation staff arrived at the point south of Kaikoura, near a landmark known as Barney's Rock, about 3pm.
"When we got there the whole pod was nursing it [the baby] along. They were cradling it, it was really amazing they were holding it up.
"I've never see them acting like that."
As the rescuers arrived the whole pod disappeared, including the baby, he said.
Mr Croucher, the owner of South Bay Fishing Charters, said the team had to search the area in his boat. When the floats of the cray pots appeared they managed to grab the ropes and pull them, with the juvenile orca, alongside the boat.
"It was pretty distressed, it was hanging upside down when we found it."
As the baby orca came to the surface the rest of the pod lined up.
"The pod was happy to have us. I think they realised we were helping and this big male swam right up to the boat and alongside the little guy."
DOC worker Dave Walford used a hook and knife system he designed and made to cut the ropes that had wound around the tail of the young orca a couple of times.
"When it was released it, it gave a couple of kicks and shot the gap. It went away happily with the rest of the pod and they cruised off," Mr Walford said.
"It was an amazing experience. It was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. It's a real success story."
DOC staff member Ian Surgenor, who was part of the rescue team, said it was straightforward and done very calmly.
"The whole pod was in a line observing and they were very calm.
"They sort of seemed to know," he said.
As they lifted the baby orca towards the surface there was a lack of resistance, Mr Walford said.
"It was on its last legs, it would have definitely drowned but the pod seemed to have been bringing it to the surface," he said.
Keith Dunlop was the fourth member of the rescue team.
DOC South Marlborough area manager Dave Hayes said cray pot tangles were usually more common with humpback whales.
"It's often younger animals that are playing with the floats that get tangled."
The incident highlighted the need for crayfishermen to make sure there was as little slack as possible in the craypot lines at all times of the year, not just during winter when the humpbacks were migrating, Mr Hayes said.
Mr Hayes thanked Mr Croucher for letting them use his boat for the rescue.
- The Marlborough Express
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