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Document dump reveals DOC put politics ahead of Toa the orca’s welfare

The Department of Conservation spent $129,000 and 12 days prolonging the pain of a baby orca for the sake of politics.

That’s the takeaway from today’s massive document dump, which includes an incident management plan that explained: “An intervention approach is not the traditional DOC position that we have taken in the past with marine mammals however the Iwi, public, media and political interests are very high in this case.”

In public, the Department stated over and over that it was solely motivated by Toa's welfare. We now know this to be false.

On 15 July, eight days before Toa's death, DOC internally circulated advice from an international expert:

This calf appears to have about zero chances of survival in the wild. Finding its pod would be an interesting experiment, but do you really want to put the animal through this experiment knowing that the pod left it once already (I don't know the circumstances behind this stranding so I am making a large assumption) and would probably not welcome the animal back into the group for the same reason it left it the first time. Experience with dependent calves would indicate that it is non-releasable. In my opinion, If you can't care for the calf long term and the government is unwilling to move it to a facility that can, you should humanly euthanize it sooner than later.

The next day, text messages suggest that DOC staff were “moving toward euthanasia” – but the order was never given. DOC bosses left Toa to linger on in pain and distress for another six days, despite ongoing concerns from staff over the impact of human interaction on his ability to rejoin the wild.

Toa’s death was a tragedy – for whalekind and for taxpayers. It’s a lesson in the cruelty and waste that can be inflicted by bureaucracies motivated by public perceptions ahead of the core activities we fund them for.

DOC’s implementation plans were clear as to who bears responsibility for this waste and suffering: The decision to proceed with euthanasia sits with the Director Operations, Lower North Island Region (Jack Mace).

As an employee of DOC, Mr Mace’s job was to protect, not prolong the pain, of this precious animal. We’ve asked Mr Mace to front on this issue and answer questions. If he’s unwilling to defend his decision, he should do the honourable thing and resign.

Further notes:

  • A necropsy of Toa was vetoed by local iwi, to the confusion of international experts.
  • The $129,790 cost of Toa’s care included $62,060 in salaries and wages, $17,446 in travel and accommodation, $13,941 in meals and refreshments, and $2,800 in koha to local iwi.
  • For some reason, Hollywood filmmaker James Cameron requested to visit Toa on the day of the orca's death.
  • The Taxpayers’ Union first raised concerns about the cost and welfare implications of Toa’s care on 20 July when the orca was still alive.

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