Toa the baby orca via Getty
Toa the baby orca via Getty

Peter Williams: Is it time to kill off orca baby Toa?

Peter Williams 21/07/2021

OPINION: Keeping orca baby Toa alive has afforded some witty debate - but the cost to the taxpayer is beyond a joke

A couple of nights ago, 1 News reported that keeping Toa alive to that stage had cost the taxpayer over ten thousand dollars, not including the time of the DOC workers helping to look after him. It looked like some element of common sense was coming into the discussion yesterday when words such as euthanise were being mentioned. In other words, there appears to be a reality dawning that this orca calf will not be reconnected with its pod and will have to fend for itself, or be put out of its misery without being given the chance to go back in the wild.

What’s your thinking on this? Are there too many human feelings coming into this? The orca is after all an animal, it is designed to live in the marine wild and are humans doing it any favour by mollycoddling it in a pool and hand feeding it? Should it just be left to go, and fend for itself?

Remember that a fully adult orca is quite a way up the marine food chain. Ten years ago, there was the seemingly never ending story of Happy Feet, the emperor penguin. He washed up on a beach not far from where Toa the orca is now. He was pretty crook as you would be after sticks and sand.

Anyway, a combination of taxpayer money and fundraising brought him around. He was then taken out to sea on the NIWA vessel Tangaroa, dropped in the Southern Ocean with a tracking device on, and left to get on with his life. Sad thing was the tracking device stopped transmitting a  signal about a week after he was released, and the suggestion was made at the time that Happy Feet had met his demise at the hands, or rather the mouth of, an orca. That may or may not be true. Some marine experts, perhaps trying to avoid the possibility of Happy Feet becoming an orca’s entree, would like us to believe that the penguin’s tracker just fell off.

But what I’m saying is, bearing in mind the potential for orcas to regularly feast on other residents of the deep, doesn’t it stand to reason that if you let Toa go, he’ll have a much better chance of survival in the wild than Happy Feet? If you have some special affection or love, or even some knowledge of the habits of orca in the wild, I’d love to hear it.

Should Toa be quietly put down, or should he be left to fend for himself in the big blue yonder? And why do we get so attached to wild animals and give them status and care well beyond the normal? At least Toa’s presence is giving the witty among you the opportunity to offer some quite pertinent political comment about the status of many in our society.

The Taxpayer’s Union put out a release yesterday saying they were monitoring the ongoing cost to the taxpayer of keeping Toa in his pool and feeding him, but suggested the time was nigh for Toa to start paying his own way, in that he could become a sort of tourist attraction. As they say, “ New Zealanders might even be willing to pay for the privilege of visiting Toa at his paddling pool. Such an enterprise could even see Toa become a net taxpayer, which is a very rare species in Wellington".

But they also make the very relevant point that it’s very hard to euthanase any animal once you give it a name. And if it is put down, god knows what sort of ceremonial claptrap the taxpayer will have to pony up for at his farewell.

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