An orca that became entangled in a crayfish line in Northland has been spotted for the first time in more than five months.
By Sam Wat
The sighting has been called “a major breakthrough” by Orca Research Trust officials, who are hopeful they can still help the male orca.
Trust founder Dr Ingrid Visser says it is unlikely the whale has freed himself given how tight the rope was wrapped.
“We can only imagine it’d be in a lot of pain. Eventually, with enough pressure, he could actually lose his pectoral fins.”
During a five-day-long rescue effort, only the crayfish pot was cut from the tangled line after several attempts to release the orca over Christmas.
Yesterday’s sighting also marks the first time the orca has been seen with its pod, which it was separated from while being released.
Dr Visser says it’s a “significant mental relief” even if the orca is still physically in pain.
“Like all of us, family is important and that’s the case for these animals as well.”
The animal's survival these past few months would’ve depended on the aid of other animals, Dr Visser reckons.
“They provide physical support and they go patch food for [the injured orca] and bring it back,” she says.
The Department of Conservation is asking for help from the public to determine whether the orca is still entangled in the crayfish line as it wasn't confirmed whether it was able to be freed in December.
"We are appealing for sightings so we can respond – which would mean getting visibility of the orca and checking the entanglement status and if he is still entangled, implementing our disentanglement plan."
Anyone who spots orca around Northland, particularly along the Whangārei coast, is urged to call either the Department of Conservation hotline at 0800 DOC HOT or the Orca Research Trust on 0800 SEA ORCA.
“We don’t know how far he’s going to travel or where he’s going to turn up next,” says Dr Visser.
There are fewer than 200 orcas living along New Zealand’s coastlines.