A BABY orca is now at home swimming around a 6m wide Para pool on a council reserve overlooking the Tauranga harbour.
On Wednesday the calf, which has been stranded in Bay waters for 21 days, had reached distress levels and was almost catatonic in the ocean when experts decided to move him to a land-based pool.
Once in the pool filled with sea water the calf was stabilised and fed a hydrating mixture of warm water and glucose.
As any mum and dad of a young baby would understand, it was a big moment when he pooped, local resident and hands-on volunteer Kit Wilson said.
"It means his metabolism is still working, his intestines are still working. It means there is a chance."
Around midnight the orca was tube fed.
"Not with orca milk, as we don't have any handy, but with a special mixture," Mr Wilson said.
Orca Research Trust founder Dr Ingrid Visser said the orca was in intensive care and was doing ten times better than he was 24 hours ago.
The rehydration was working and soon he would be fed fresh fish - a "fish smoothie".
"He's really alert, he's watching people and you can see if you step away from him he comes back because he wants to re-engage," she said.
Dr Visser was speaking to the Bay of Plenty Times while standing in the pool structure rubbing the whale's tummy and scratching his back.
More experts from the United States flew in yesterday morning, bringing the expert rescue and rehabilitation team up to seven - evenly split between New Zealanders and Americans.
It was unknown how long the calf would be kept in the pool.
"It's completely up to him. At this stage we are cautiously optimistic and we're moving forward as fast as we can because obviously the faster we can get him rehabilitated the quicker we can get him back out with wild orca."
Dr Visser said the team was aware a pod of orcas had been spotted in Tauranga Harbour two days ago but they did not know if it was his family pod.
A pod of orcas was also spotted yesterday near Omanu beach.
"He will become fixated with us for a while because we are his only social contact but we have every faith that when we get him back out with the wild orca he will re-engage with them."
The team was focusing on rehabilitating the baby orca and getting him back to strength to reunite with his family pod.