A Plimmerton teenager who helped care for Toa, the baby orca he found stranded on the coast nearly two weeks ago, was with him up until he died last night.
"It was really sad. I was in the water holding him at the very end," Ben Norris told 1 NEWS.
Norris said Toa’s breathing slowed down a lot and after it was established that the calf was dying, a group of the volunteers — including Ben — held him until his last breath.
"It was super emotional, just unreal," he said.
The Department of Conservation said Toa’s health started to deteriorate at 7.30pm last night, and euthanasia was discussed, but the orca calf died of natural causes an hour later.
"Not the outcome anyone wanted," Ben said.
The 16-year-old was one of the first people to find Toa stranded near Plimmerton, and since then he’s spent his entire school holidays caring for the orca calf.
"I was with him from the very start of day one to the very end of day 12," he said.
Greg Norris, Ben’s father, said he’s incredibly proud of his son.
"He goes back to school — goes back on Monday — but he’s been here every day, he’s been super connected and given his heart to it," he told 1 NEWS.
Ben’s sister, Brianna, also praised her brother’s efforts.
"I couldn’t be prouder; he was by Toa’s side the whole time," she said.
Ben described the burial of the orca calf at Ngāti Toa’s local marae at dawn today as emotional.
"It was pretty beautiful, you know, the moon was out, everything kind of lined up," he said.
"He had his real family, and then he had his Plimmerton family."
Ben said it was the best school holidays he’s ever had.
"I’ll see him again sometime soon."