Baby orca returned to the sea

01:35, Mar 28 2014
DWARFED: The young orca in oversized stranding pontoons developed for adult orca.

Locals worked for five hours to refloat an orca calf found stranded on a remote Te Arai beach south of Mangawai in Northland last night.

The young animal was found just before dark by the Mangawhai South forest caretaker who alerted DOC and Project Jonah.

A group of locals then turned up with buckets to help keep the young animal wet until further help arrived.

Once DOC staff arrived with more equipment, the orca was then carefully rolled onto two rescue mats and stabilised with specially designed pontoons, ready to be refloated.

A group of orcas had been seen close inshore earlier in the day. It seems likely the youngster was feeding or chasing stingrays in shallow water and became stranded on the beach as the tide fell.

As the youngster's pod was likely to be close by, and sea and weather conditions were good, the decision was made to refloat the animal in the dark rather than waiting for daylight.

About 3.2 metres long, and weighing an estimated 500 kilograms, the calf was just small enough for helpers to carry it back into the water.

Mangawhai Surf Club members were then able to tow the large dolphin into deeper water where it was released about midnight.

"Throughout her ordeal, the calf was very vocal, squealing and clicking but also remaining surprisingly calm and breathing steadily, without showing many signs of stress." DOC senior ranger Thelma Wilson said.

"Once the group began to move her towards the water she became quiet."

Locals had done all the right things by keeping the orca cool, calm and stable, which made the refloating process very easy, Wilson said.

It was not known whether the calf had reconnected with the pod, but the amount of calling the animal was doing indicated the calf's family was not far away.

Project Jonah volunteers checked the beach and went out in boats this morning to make sure the animal had not restranded. They did not see the calf or its pod.