5 min read

Man On Vacation Helps Wild Orca Reunite With His Family

“We definitely felt like we had earnt our beers that day.”

When Ben Waru went on vacation with his family and friend to Papamoa Beach, New Zealand, he never expected to help save a life. But when his family noticed something strange in the water, Waru’s day took an unlikely turn.

“We were taking our kids for a morning walk along the beach towards the Papamoa Beach Surf Club,” Waru told The Dodo. “My wife, Verity Waru, first noticed a fin in the water when we approached the beach, and we then noticed two more fins, which we believed to be pilot whales.”

They went to have a closer look, and saw that the fins didn’t belong to pilot whales, but three wild orcas.

Man standing above wild orca
Ben Waru checking out the stranded orca he and his family found on Papamoa Beach, New Zealand | Verity Waru

The seawater churned with the animals’ movement — the orcas were chasing stingrays close to the shore, probably to try and eat them. Then one of the orcas got stuck on the shallow bottom.

At first, Waru wasn’t sure if or how they could help the orca, but they saw that he was struggling and needed help. 

While it’s usually a mistake to push beached animals back into the water — healthy whales and dolphins don’t wash up very often, so you should always call in an expert to check for underlying illnesses — Waru and his family had seen how this orca got stuck, so it was clear he just needed a little push.

Men pushing wild orca into the ocean
Verity Waru

“We weren’t sure we could help get the whale back to its siblings, [who] were circling a bit further out in the ocean, but we knew that we had to give it a go,” Waru said.

Waru, his friend Dan Jackson, a couple other beachgoers and even a dog leapt into the water to help the whale, while Waru’s wife filmed the rescue effort from the shore.

“The orca twitched when I first touched it,” Waru said. “I thought that this was probably the first time that it had been touched by a human. For it to trust us with the opportunity to help it ... was just awesome.”

Men working together to help wild orca
Men working together to help the stranded orca | Verity Waru

But getting the orca into deeper water was a challenge — for both the orca and the people.

“The whale was struggling to get itself back out to sea as the waves kept throwing its compass off by pushing it sideways,” Waru said. “So we worked together to align it back out to sea and waited for a wave to give it the lift it needed.”

Orca splashing in shallow ocean water
The orca swimming away at the end of the rescue process | Verity Waru

The orca knew what to do. When the right wave finally came, he used his fluke to propel himself into deeper water. He was finally free. Everyone whooped and hurrahed as the whale swam away.

“It was amazing to just see an orca in the wild, but to be able to touch and help save an orca is truly an experience that we will never forget,” Waru said. “We definitely felt like we had earnt our beers that day.”

If you find a stranded animal, remember that it can be dangerous to approach them, and always check with an expert before stepping in. For more information, visit Whale and Dolphin Conservation.