The Orca Toa calf is still confined to its pool due to recent flooding that polluted the port of Porirua, but it is still doing well according to Dr Ingrid Visser. Video / Mark Mitchell
A prominent marine biologist says that while the Kiwis did a remarkable job caring for the stranded baby Orc Toa, now is the time to talk about some harsh realities, including euthanasia.
Massey University marine biologist Karen Stockin says Toa has been cared for by humans for a week now, and given he’s likely under 3 months old, it’s critical that healthy discussions begin about his to come up.
The young killer whale has currently been cared for 24/7 by staff and volunteers from the Department of Conservation (DOC) since being separated from his mother in Plimmerton, north of Wellington, on July 11.
TVNZ has reported the cost to take care of Toa at around $ 10,000 so far, not including the cost of DOC staff.
Stockin told the Herald today that she was starting to worry about Toa’s well-being given that he was such a young animal who depended, or normally would be, on his mother and her group to learn. ” essential life skills “.
Given that he was so young, he had only two options left: euthanasia or placing him in a specially designed facility that there were none in New Zealand.
She said the various national and international vets had so far done an “incredible job” to keep him alive and stable, but that he was diagnosed overnight with colic, which meant he was diagnosed with colic. was starting to have problems.
“Here we first have indicators of possible things that are not going so well with Toa.
“The reality is that, until this morning, we have had no problem with Toa.
“He’s still stable to be fair, vets treated him for colic overnight and he’s been stable this morning.
“But as I mentioned, we have to take the health of the animal into account and then the welfare of the animal and they should not be considered in isolation.
“As we know, when you are stressed and have wellness considerations, it can affect your health.”
When asked if he was trying to find Toa’s pod like a needle in a haystack scenario, Stockin replied that it might not be that extreme, but it was “complicated and this is not easy and it is not quick “.
“Therefore, we are now in a situation for a weekend where this whale remains in constant human engagement and interaction, which from a welfare standpoint raises all kinds of concerns about potential addiction.
“I can see why the public happy ending is that we find the native pod, we make the whale and everyone is happy but we still have the complexity of finding the pod first.”
Even if the pod was found, there were logistical issues in getting the Toa to this location, which in itself would be very stressful “not without risk”.
“And then trying to figure out that you have the female in that group, because they go their separate ways, then you have the aspect of whether there will be success, and will he recognize that group and more importantly will be? he accepted with this pod.
“They are all strangers. They come with their own risks and caveats.”
While the sightings were “exciting” it was always unclear if a female orca was breastfeeding and this could not be known from sighting or even from near the water.
“You can’t say that from the surface, you can’t point it out from the surface and go yeah, this female is definitely lactating, it doesn’t work that way. Unless you have it. from solid observations of another calf feeding on that female, you are limited by your guesswork around the pod having a lactating female. “
Stockin said it was known that calves under the age of three months would potentially never re-engage with their native pod, even if it was found.
When asked how long it was healthy or just for the animal to keep him in his small pool, Hockin said there was “still some debate” because no one knew how old he really was.
“I say less than three months [old]. I’m going with what we know of orcas of this size. “
Toa is 2.15m long.
“We’re safe to say he will probably be 3 months old, if not a little less. That in itself is a concern.”
As to whether he was stressed, eating might be one of the last indicators.
There was also a revolving door not only of the DoC staff but also of the volunteers who looked after the Toa, again orienting themselves towards addiction issues.
“There’s a lot of touch activity going on. It’s fair to say that the argument keeps coming back that these are very social animals, but yes to a point.
“We have an animal so used to human contact that it is increasingly difficult to imagine that it will succeed in reintegrating with the number of human contacts it has had.
“It’s a fine line.”
Dr. Arnja Dale, Scientific Director of the SPCA, told the Science Media Center that they were “extremely concerned” about the welfare of the Toa.
DoC would “very soon” need to make “tough ethical decisions about its future” using a robust ethical framework that had Toa’s best interests at its core.