An orca calf separated from its family in Tauranga Harbour must be reunited with a pod for it to survive in the wild, the Department of Conservation (DOC) says.
It's a life or death situation for the young whale, which became separated from its pod in Tauranga Harbour two weeks ago.
A tactical group has been formed to help the orca, with representatives from DOC, local iwi, the Orca Research Trust and key community stakeholders joining together.
DOC said it had been monitoring the whale's movements since 19 July and while it was swimming freely, they were becoming increasingly concerned about its wellbeing.
Orcas are wholly reliant on their pods for food during their formative years so cannot survive independently.
DOC said it was looking at all options available to save the whale, but was limited in what it could do - too much human contact could unsettle the calf, or cause it to form an artificial bond with humans.
DOC Tauranga district operations manager Jeff Milham said the best they could do was wait and hope the orca would be adopted by a passing pod.
A calf separated from its pod was in serious danger, Mr Milham said.
"Orca at that age are dependent on being with their pod for food... it is a case of an orca pod coming to it rather than vice versa."
He said anybody who came across the whale should stay at least 200m away to avoid alarming it.