Once-orphaned orca surfaces with baby of her own

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SEATTLE — Springer the killer whale, once orphaned and then rescued with human intervention, is back with a calf of her own.


Photo: Graeme Ellis, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada

The orca was seen last Thursday, July 4, off the central coast of Vancouver Island, Canada, with a baby.

Researchers confirmed on Monday that Springer is a new mother.

Springer, also known as A73, was in 2002 the subject of what is believed to have been the first-ever successful rescue and repatriation of an orca.

In January 2002, the orphaned orca was found sick and alone in the congested ferry lanes off West Seattle, some 250 miles from her home waters of Johnstone Strait, British Columbia.

Her plight became top story in the local media, and soon an intense debate raged about what to do with the wayward whale.

Some activists wanted to leave her alone, hoping that somehow she`d find her way home.

But other groups, including OrcaLab, the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation and Orca Conservancy, successfully persuaded NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries to directly intervene, capture the orca and return her to her family in Canada.

Another key supporter of the Springer rescue was the Whale Watch Association Northwest, now known as the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

That summer, Springer was corralled in Puget Sound, brought to a sea pen site in Manchester, Wash., to undergo medical tests, and then once cleared of any communicable diseases, put onto a 144-foot catamaran and taken to Johnstone Strait.

The next day, Springer was released into her natal pod, and after a few days and with the help of her extended orca family, she was back to being a wild whale again.

“It’s been 11 years since her release back to her home waters and her story continues,” said Helena Symonds of OrcaLab, which hosted the Springer effort on Hanson Island, Canada, and was a key operational lead on her repatriation.

“This is great news given all she went through as an orphaned calf, her rescue in Seattle and her successful release back to the wild,” said Dr. John Ford of Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. “Let’s hope both she and her calf continue to thrive.”

Researchers will be watching Springer’s calf. It’s estimated that some 40 percent of newborn resident orcas in the Pacific Northwest don’t survive their first year.

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