Orca unhooked from a craypot buoy in the waters off the Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand
By Dave Moran
On Saturday 4 February Rhys Cochrane (19) had an experience that he will treasure for the rest of his life!
Editor Dave Moran gave Rhys a call to hear first hand about it.
Dave Moran (DM): Rhys, when did you hear that an orca was in trouble?
Rhys Cochrane (RC): Saturday
afternoon around 4.30 pm. My father and I were at home when DoC
(Department of Conservation) called Wendy at our Cathedral Cove Dive
DM: What did you first notice when you reached the area in your boat?
RC: When we reached the reported area a few hundred metres off Orua Cave, which is just north of Hot Water Beach, we noticed a crayfish pot bobbing around. When we got closer we could see there was an orca which had the pot's line wrapped around its tail a couple of times. From the cuts on its head and down its body my guess is that it was tangled some other way before we got there.
DM: Have you any idea how long it had been hooked up?
RC: My guess would be a couple of hours or so because she seemed pretty tired and upset.
DM: How far below the surface was she?
RC: About three metres. She was coming up to breathe every minute or so.
DM: Do you think she had to lift the craypot off the bottom to get a breath?
RC: There was a 35m line on the craypot but I'm not sure how deep the water was. Looking at how she was struggling my guess is that to breathe she had to pull the pot off the bottom. She appeared very tired.
DM: Were you aware of other orca in the area?
RC: When I first jumped in they weren't there. But I knew from reports that other orca were near by.
DM: How did the orca react when you started cutting the line wrapped around its tail?
RC: Not badly at all, amazingly! I was grabbing onto her tail and she didn't seem to mind at all. I think she must have known I was trying to help or she knew she just had nothing else going for her. She just stayed still and let me do what I had to do.
DM: What did she do once you cut through the line, setting her free?
RC: My first go at cutting the line was unsuccessful as the knife was very blunt. So I went back to the boat and got a shaper knife. This knife cut the rope off quickly and she soon realized she was free and slowly swam away.
DM: Did you have any eye contact with her?
RC: Oh yes. When I first jumped in I took a video camera to record how she was tangled. I could see her looking at me. When the other orca appeared one of them began nudging the line with its nose as if it was still trying to help the young orca. Another one was about three metres below me, facing upwards on its side looking at me as if it was checking me out! That's when I was a little scared because they were large orca, about five or six metres long!
DM: I guess when videoing you could also work out the best way of cutting her free?
RC: Yes, I could see how it was wrapped around its tail and that if I cut one part of the line the whole lot would fall off her.
I had spoken to Ingrid Visser and she advised me not to just cut the line below the orca but to cut it off its tail. If I just cut the line below the orca it would be free to swim off but still have the line and buoys attached to its tail and it would eventually die. So I cut the line so that she had no line left on her.
DM: How has this experience affected you personally in your appreciation of these animals?
RC: I've never been that close to an orca before, let alone save its life. They are definitely magnificent animals which I sort of appreciated before this event but now I have a new deep respect for these amazing, intelligent animals.
DM: An awesome experience?
RC: Yes, I was stoked. I would have been stoked just to swim with them but to help it out and save its life, I was over the moon.
DM: I suppose Wendy and your dad are very proud of you?
RD: Yes they were pretty stoked. Russ was there and he experienced it first hand. He would have got in the water if I wasn't there. Obviously someone had to stay on the boat because it was a pretty rough day. He was rapt as well with the outcome!
DM: Thanks Rhys, is there anything you would like to add?
RD: Yes, well done DoC for giving us a call. They were busy at the time and knew we had a boat and lived nearby. They called the right people I guess.
DM: Once you finish helping Wendy and Russ in the dive shop over summer what's in store then?
RC: It's been great helping them out. After summer I'm heading back to Queenstown where last year I completed studying Adventure Tourism Management.
DM: Well Rhys you sure had an adventure experience which is not your normal tourist adventure!
RC: Yes it was definitely different. I'm so fortunate to have saved an orca's life, not many people have that opportunity!
DM: Rhys, all the best for the future I'm sure it will be an exciting one!
Dr Ingrid Visser, Orca researcher, advised after viewing the video that the orca was a female and approximately six years.
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