Leesa Pratt & Jools Farrell

In 1985, sixty-two False Killer Whales [a species of dolphin: Pseudorca crassidens] stranded at Crowdy Head on the north coast of New South Wales. The whales were being thrown around and bashed to death on the rocks by the surf, with rescuers struggling in the appalling conditions. Taking matters into his own hands, a local visionary decided to take one of the whales on the back of a truck to the sheltered fishing port on the other side of the headland about a kilometre away, where he would nurse it back to health. This was so successful that the order was given to transport all the surviving animals across to the port. That decision helped save a further 33 whales at that incident. No longer would stranded animals be doomed to die!

Following this event, ORRCA (Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia) was formed in the November of 1985 by a group of volunteers who wanted to make a difference in these unpredictable events.  35 years on, ORRCA is a growing, multi state, volunteer team whose primary focus continues to be the rescue, preservation, conservation and welfare of whales, dolphins, seals and dugongs in Australian waters.

Uniquely, ORRCA is the only volunteer marine mammal rescue group licensed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to do the work we do. Our member network enables us to attend rescue incidents ranging from single to multi animal incidents across popular and sometimes very remote and vast stretches of coastline around Australia.

Across the winter months, ORRCA often sees a spike in seal numbers hauling out. This coincides with the Minke, Humpback and Southern Right whale northerly migration. In recent years, we have also seen an increase in the number of whale entanglements which has increased the number of calls into our ORRCA Rescue Hotline. The coordinated management of the many incidents over this period can be immense and we are grateful to have such a dedicated and experienced team of volunteers ready to help the marine mammals that frequent our waters and our coastlines.

Just another rescue training day
Whilst hosting an ORRCA Rescue Training Workshop back in February 2019 at Kurnell in south Sydney, the ORRCA Rescue Hotline received an incident call stating there was a baby Orca stranded in Kurnell. As it turned out, it was a Risso’s Dolphin calf which had stranded and was still alive! The ORRCA training team and 15 of its newest rescue members, plus 9 NPWS staff who had also just been trained by ORRCA, were directly put into action! A convoy of vehicles travelled the 5 minutes down the 4WD beach to assess the situation and start the rehabilitation process.

A multi-agency, team effort…
The ORRCA rescue members with the help of NPWS staff and local Surf Life Saving Club members searched the area for the young dolphin’s mother. Together they did everything they could, in trying and deteriorating conditions, to support this very young animal. Unfortunately, as it was milk dependent, the decision was made in conjunction with senior vets from the Taronga Wildlife Hospital and Dolphin Marine Conservation Park that unfortunately this little calf was unable to be saved.

The takeout…
No one could have foreseen this event happening on an ORRCA rescue training day, let alone within 5 minutes from the workshop… The feedback and takeout from the newest recruits was that this practical hands on experience reinforced all the skills learnt throughout the valuable day-long training workshop. It truly was an initiation into the wonderful work the ORRCA team has provided our coastal communities for the last 35 years… and will continue to long into the future!


Leesa Pratt is President and Jools Farrell Vice President of ORCCA Inc.

Contact: orrca@orrca.org.au

More information: orrca.org.au


This article was first published in Summer 2021 in Vol 127 of the NAEE journal which is available free to members.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment