The orca calf that became separated from his pod in Plimmerton nearly two weeks ago has died.
Affectionately named by rescuers as Toa, the baby orca had spent 13 days apart from its pod while a multitude of volunteers and teams tried cared for him.
It was 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.
Whale Rescue said tonight Toa passed away after "rapidly" deteriorating. Vets on site rushed to his aid but were unable to save him.
The orca calf, believed to be between four and six months old, needed round-the-clock care after becoming separated from his mother.
Yesterday, Toa was moved back to a sea pen after he had been held in a pool beside the sea due to bad weather conditions. He then could not be shifted back because the water was contaminated, RNZ reported.
Department of Conservation marine species manager Ian Angus said vets believed it was best for the orca's health to be in the sea.
"The calf has injuries to his pectoral fins and tail fluke and needs to stretch out in deeper water. It also has an issue with an inflamed eye which vets believe would respond better in salt water," Angus said in a statement.
Earlier this week, Massey University marine biologist Professor Karen Stockin told 1 NEWS DOC had done everything possible to prioritise the survival of the calf but there was an ethical obligation to consider all aspects of his lifespan.
“That prognosis of whether or not there’s likely to be an end survival point will need to be taken into consideration when we consider all the contingencies that are unfortunately available to us,” she said.
The marine biologist is one of the experts that has provided advice to DOC on welfare considerations since the orca was rescued.
“In an international context, an animal of this youth, so young, would really only face two outlooks… life-long in captivity or unfortunately euthanasia and understandably both of those options are neither palatable to us in New Zealand who are doing everything in our power to try and obviously have a happy ending here, but we are running out of time.”
“If we have any chance of survival, that has to be considered but likewise does the detrimental welfare concerns that are obviously increasing as time goes on with him being in captivity,” Stockin said.
She said the stress implications to the orca of “an incredibly small enclosure” and “an incredible amount of human contact” are unknown.
“We can only infer what we think some of the potential consequences of that may be.”
Stockin said the New Zealand public’s support and in particular, the support from locals has been “absolutely outstanding.”