Aerial searches for stranded orca calf's pod unsuccessful

Two aerial searches for the orca calf’s pod have been unsuccessful following calls to DOC of orca pod sightings on Wellington’s south coast, Raumati and near Kapiti Island today.

Toa the orca calf. Source: 1 NEWS

A third search by plane is taking place at the moment.

“Unfortunately these things have eluded us,” Kapiti Aero Club flight instructor Joshua Hay said.

He said the sea was murky from runoff from recent rain and is hopeful the water will be more clear tomorrow when there are plans for the search to continue.

“Fingers crossed for tomorrow,” he said. 

The Aero Club said the fine weather forecast for the next few days made for perfect searching condition for us.

“These are ideal conditions for us – we can pick up disturbances on the water from a long distance and this just makes it so much easier to spot any potential pod,” flight instructor Joshua Hay told 1 NEWS earlier today. 

The club has carried out multiple aerial searches since an orca calf became stranded on rocks in Hongoeka, north of Plimmerton, on July 11.

It’s now the 13th day the orca has received care at Plimmerton Boating Club in a response led by the Department of Conservation with support from volunteer animal organisations, the community and local iwi, Ngāti Toa Rangatira.

Hay said the aero club would be ready to respond within 40 minutes of a reported sighting.

He also made a search flight this afternoon from Kapiti to the Marlborough Sounds.

“With flat water, we can pick up ripples and don’t need to see an orca fin.

“When you get white caps, when the wind picks up it just makes it so much more difficult,” Hay said.

More volunteers are planning to fly from the club this weekend, and will be on the look out for orca pods, he said.

“We’re trying to cover all bases.

“We’re just a small part of this volunteer crew that’s looking to reunite Toa.”

In the Department of Conservation’s latest update, the agency said the orca calf is responding well to being back in the partitioned-off sea area at the boating club after he was moved yesterday from a pool he was kept in during heavy rain and strong winds.

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Ben Norris alerted authorities about the orca on Sunday and he’s been helping care for it since. Source: Breakfast

Marine species manager Ian Angus said people are urged to report pod sightings from anywhere in the country, with New Zealand orca able to move up to 160km a day.

"Reports with photos or video are particularly helpful, as we can identify the calf’s pod by the unique markings on the orca," he stated in the update.

He said decisions are being led by the calf’s health and welfare and planning for a range of scenarios continues.