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Expert says trapped orca knew rescuer was helping

Wednesday 8 Feb 2012 5:50 p.m.

By Emma Jolliff

An expert says the orca that was rescued by a diver yesterday off the Coromandel did not struggle because she knew she was being helped.

Rhys Cochrane filmed the stricken whale whose tail was caught up in crayfish pot line.

The orca is female and is estimated to be between six and eight years old.

Orca expert Dr Ingrid Visser says she is clearly calling to her family and her calls would sound more piercing if she was panicking.

“It's not a happy whale but it's not panic stress,” she says. “You can see that as well with the behaviour, the animal is very calm.”

Mr Cochrane came to its rescue and cut it free after he was contacted by the Department of Conservation.

“There were cuts all over the orca's face down the body and tail; he was bleeding a little bit.”

He says the orca got her abrasions from rubbing up against the rope trying to get free, “so he's obviously been there for a wee while”.

Five or six other orcas nearby, while the orca “didn't seem to mind” Mr Cochrane helping him.

“Maybe he even knew I was trying to help him.”

Dr Visser says orca are really smart animals and they “know when you are helping them”.

She says marks on top of the trapped whale’s head looks like other teeth marks from the other orca who had probably been trying to get the rope off her.

There are fewer than 200 orcas living around New Zealand. They are on the nationally critical list.

“People shouldn't just jump in and swim with them, they are a top predator,” says Dr Visser. “Having said that, no one in the world has ever been attacked from an orca in the wild.”

“There've been three people killed in captivity but no one in the wild.”

Two years ago one orca in Florida drowned its trainer by pulling her under the water.

Orcas live for around 80 years and feed primarily on stingrays.

They have been tangled like this before but it is not common.

“It's not the fault of the cray fishermen, no one should blame any of the fishermen, it's just a genuine mistake,” says Dr Visser who thinks the orca is likely to recover well.

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