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How Little Orca’s Story Once Again Reveals Incompetence and Amateurism of New Zealand’s Officials and NGOs

For the past few days (apart from yesterday) Ingrid Visser from the Orca Research Trust, looked like she was on cloud nine, grinning gleefully from ear to ear, giggling with joy and telling one reporter that she feels like a “proud mom” and telling another reporter that little orca “Bob” “liked to be touched”. Raiding the wave of mass euphoria, some random undergraduate girl from the University wrote Visser asking to be a part of this all, and in no time she was in a pool with Bob. The Orca Research Trust Facebook page exploded, donations started pouring in and even a production-level fundraising video was made. People were flown from the US to be a part of efforts helping Bob.

What was absent, however, was any clue what to do. None out of dozens of people in Bob’s pool wore any face masks. A young calf with naive and weak immune system is very vulnerable to various human pathogens, but who cares, right? The calf was handled nonstop, touched, hugged, being leaned on, you name it. Please watch the fundraising video around 0.46 seconds in, you will see a little calf trembling in horror while while 8 people groping him simultaneously. So not only terrified and weakened cal was left to fend for himself for 3 weeks, once he was “rescued” he was exposed to even more stress, noise, touching, perhaps even human pathogens his little body could not handle.

Alas, he died, but quite conveniently, no necropsy was done and he was buried rather fast. It was interesting because Visser has been pestering Sea World and other captive industry facilities about how they mistreat their orcas and hide information, yet when it comes to her, no transparency is needed. This is a typical New Zealand approach of dealing with cetaceans, they like to hide behind Maoris’ backs and do not do necropsies. After all, when you do not seek, you do not find, right? They have been allowing the Navy and Big Oil run wild in their waters but cetaceans deaths are not investigated because “muh Maori”.

We will never know for sure what happened to Bob, but we suspect that his death was from capture myopathy, or cardiomyopathy. This is a condition that arises after being exposed to extreme stress and as a result a cascade of irreversible events starts to happen leading to ultimate death. But again, who cares, right? Why do we need to know what happened to Bob? It is not like anyone in New Zealand is prepared to admit wrongdoings or will try to change anything.

New Zealand actually has dismal record in helping their cetaceans in distress. They are very good at PR, and creating the appearance of some action, but numbers do not lie. In 2014 we actually counted their success rate, and it turned out that 29.2% cetaceans were refloated/rescued by DOC and rescues, cetaceans (1%) were rescued by the public, 39.6% cetaceans died, and 30.2% cetaceans were shot. In 2012, numbers were even worse, only 17% !! cetaceans were refloated/rescued (if you subtract 17 whales that refloated themselves, then the rescue rate drops to 9 %), 33%) cetaceans were shot and (50%) cetaceans died. In fact, things are so bad in New Zealand that we called them Another “Taiji” No One Talks About

Another, perhaps bigger area of concern, is what Bob’s death will mean. To begin with, it will mean that nothing will change, since not only parties involved refuse to admit their mistakes, but could not be bothered to actually investigate what went wrong and what happened to Bob, so it will not be repeated in the future. Additionally, it will mean that another orphan stranded tomorrow will most likely be killed.

More importantly, Bob’s case really raises questions of how Ingrid Visser will be running her proposed “sea pen” facility. We have been EXTREMELY DISAPPROVING of sea pen and sanctuary facilities proposed by Visser and the Whale Sanctuary Project. And it seems we are not alone, as many questions have been raised by others too. There will be no money shortage, since Visser and the Whale Sanctuary project have acquired the cult-like followers, who are incapable of critical, independent thinking but are prepared to shower them with money. In fact, even today, on the Orca Research Trust Page nearly 200 people congratulate Ingrid Visser on job well-done, Bob begs to differ, but who cares what he thinks, he is dead and buried.

It would be a mistake to take away blame from Visser and Co and blame the Department of Conservation alone. To begin with, Ingrid Visser and other NGOs dealing with NZ cetaceans just refuse to pressure DOC to change its policies, so they are fully compliant in how things stand now. Second, just because Ingrid Visser flies around the world giving lectures to her groupies and somewhat has acquired some minor celebrity status, it does not mean she was qualified to deal with Bob.

If anything, we all should make sure that Bob’s death was not in vain and carefully examine what it revealed. We should also not be silent, when other Bobs will be shoved in Ingrid Visser or Whale Sanctuary project sea pens, only to die and suffer there. We owe Bob at least that much.