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‘Unenviable task’: Experts voice concerns over ethics of caring for stranded baby killer whale

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Marine mammal experts are questioning the ethics of keeping Wellington’s stranded baby killer whale in captivity, nine days after being stranded on rocks near Plimmerton.

With each passing day, the situation became more complex and worrisome, according to Massey University professor of marine biology Dr. Karen Stockin.

“I don’t think anyone in New Zealand would agree” [that] in a swimming pool, with human interaction is a natural state. It is a stressor that can affect his well-being in the longer term.”

“We will continue to look at all options, but of all those options it would be remiss not to take over euthanasia.”

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Surrounded by volunteers, Toa is held in a pool in the Plimmerton Boating Club car park as the search for his capsule continues nine days after being stranded.

ROSA WOODS/Stuff

Surrounded by volunteers, Toa is held in a pool in the Plimmerton Boating Club car park as the search for his capsule continues nine days after being stranded.

The search for the killer whale’s pod continues, but there were no guarantees that the calf would even be reabsorbed or survive the trial.

The internationally recognized practice for segregated orcas was either lifelong human care or euthanasia. New Zealand does not have a shelter or rehabilitation center that can support the calf.

The Department of Conservation had an “unenviable job,” Stockin said.

dr. Arnja Dale, head of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the organization is deeply concerned for Toa’s well-being.

“He is too young to survive alone in the wild and animal welfare science has clearly shown that we cannot meet the welfare needs or provide a good life for orcas in captivity because of their complex social, physical and behavioral needs.

Nine days after he was stranded on rocks near Plimmerton, experts are questioning the ethics of continuing to keep him in captivity.

ROSA WOODS/Stuff

Nine days after he was stranded on rocks near Plimmerton, experts are questioning the ethics of continuing to keep him in captivity.

Dale said DOC is “doing all the right things” — working with experts and guided by the killer whale’s survivability.

“But we don’t want another situation like Bob,” she said. Bob was a young killer whale stranded in Tauranga harbor and held for more than 20 days in 2016 before dying. “I’m really not jealous of the Department of Conservation right now.”

Toa does orca yoga in his pool prior to a planned move back to the ocean, surrounded by DOC personnel, with support from Orca Research Trust/Whale Rescue Trust, local iwi Ngati Toa Rangatira and the local community.

ROSA WOODS/Stuff

Toa does orca yoga in his pool prior to a planned move back to the ocean, surrounded by DOC personnel, with support from Orca Research Trust/Whale Rescue Trust, local iwi Ngati Toa Rangatira and the local community.

International opinion estimated the calf’s age at less than three months old, and it was still completely dependent on its mother – and now volunteers. – for food, and its pod for developing critical life skills.

Work has been done on the orca's temporary ocean cage to fortify it against the weather, in the hopes that Toa can be moved back there soon.

ROSA WOODS/Stuff

Work has been done on the orca’s temporary ocean cage to fortify it against the weather, in the hopes that Toa can be moved back there soon.

DOC director Jack Mace, operations director of the lower North Island, said nothing was out of the question, “including euthanasia if considered the most humane option by the experts”.

More than nine days in an enclosed area made it the country’s longest response to beaching marine mammals for an individual animal, he said.

A successful reunion looked like “a very long shot and, while hopeful, we are realistic about the chances of success”.

“It is impossible to say whether it would be otherwise. We are learning from this current operation and there are no easy solutions.”

Volunteers tried to limit the time the younger members of the team spent with Toa to avoid becoming too attached

Professor Annie Potts, co-director of the NZ Center for Human-Animal Studies, said there are different treatments depending on the species.

“This is nowhere more evident than when whale calves are rescued and so much money, time and emotion is invested in their wellbeing and reuniting with their mothers and pods.”

TVNZ reported that caring for the killer whale has cost taxpayers about $10,000 so far — excluding the cost of DOC staff.

“At the same time, bobby calves — including babies who miss the mothers they were taken from — are slaughtered within days of birth or locked in calf crates to produce so-called gourmet dishes.”

Joseph Johnson/things

“There is no difference between the whale calf and the beef calf, except human reverence for one and human oppression of the other,” Potts says.

“There is no difference between the whale calf and the beef calf, except human reverence for the one and human oppression of the other.”

“We call ourselves animal lovers here, but in reality we maintain our love, compassion and empathy for ‘extraordinary species’ like whales that we can celebrate ‘rescue’.”

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