24 Dec 2019

Orca tangled in crayfish line sends 'distress calls' to other dolphins in pod

12:29 pm on 24 December 2019

Conservationists are trying to free an orca that's become entangled in a crayfish line off the Northland coast.

Killer whale / orca

(file photo) Photo: 123RF

A member of the public spotted the adult male off Tutukaka yesterday morning, and its pod of 20 or so have remained by his side ever since.

Dr Ingrid Visser from the Orca Research Trust and Whale Rescue said they were trying to slip the rope off the large mammal whenever it comes to the surface.

"I'm out with about 20 orca at the moment in Whangarei Harbour and one of them has his pectoral fin wrapped around a cray pot line," Visser said.

"He was off Tutukaka at about 11am yesterday and we've been responding all day yesterday and all day today. We are following along at the moment and are going to see if we can disentangle him."

Visser urged boaties to stay keep away from the orca, whose pod seemed very concerned about him.

"He's sending out a lot of distress calls and they're often coming up beside him and supporting him. They're very tactile animals - they touch each other a lot and come alongside and touch him and comfort him.

"But he's swimming strongly at the moment so that's a good sign. And it's good that it's an adult male because they're usually a bit stronger and can handle carrying equipment like cray pots."

Visser said it was vital they removed all the rope because if any gets embedded into the animal's flesh it could cause fatal septicaemia.

Given the distance the animal had so far towed the cray pot, she said he seemed like a very tenacious creature.

The Northland Coastguard are also assisting in the operation.