Springer File – Part One




OrcaLab Springer News for 2008 and 2008 – Doing Great!


OrcaLab News – November 15th, 2007

Good Springer News

Springer has returned to Johnstone Strait, and she looks great!

Almost 3 anxious months have passed since the tragic oil spill in Robson Bight, which exposed fully 25% of the Northern  Resident orca community to toxic diesel fumes. Springer’s family, the A4 pod, was one of the groups which spent several hours amidst a  dense diesel fog in Robson Bight the night after the incident. During the 2 weeks thatspringer.page2.ur followed, none of the A4s, including Springer,  displayed obvious symptoms. But just the same, we were worried about them, and when they left we wondered  if we would see all of them again.

Two months later, on November 7th, we heard the welcome sounds of the A4 pod in Blackfish Sound once more. We thought the calls were probably from Springer’s adoptive family, her great aunt Yakat’s group within the A11 matriline, though we couldn’t confirm their presence visually. An A5 group was with them, and a couple of days later they were joined by Scimitar’s A12 family. On November 10th, we were able to see all 3 groups as they headed slowly north through Blackney Pass against a strongly flooding tide. The groups were quite mixed up, but we were fairly sure that all of the A12s, all of the A8s, and all of Yakat’s group (including Springer) were there. We managed to get photographs of most of the orcas, to confirm their identities. All the behaviour looked, at least superficially, to be normal. The youngsters were in a playful mood, splashing about and flipping their flukes, and several of the orcas spent time foraging as they entered Blackfish Sound. Springer was traveling with her close cousins Nahwitti (A56) Current (A79) and Echo (A55). She appeared energetic, and her skin condition was the best we’ve ever seen it. Needless to say, seeing Springer and more than a dozen (16) of the 58 orcas who were impacted by the August 20th oil spill was heartwarming and reassuring. It’s far too early to say that the orcas are all out of danger, but we can say that 3 months after the incident, everyone in these 3 families looks fine. That’s good news.

OrcaLab News – July 14 2006springer.page2.lr

Springer’s 4th Anniversary

July 14th, 2006 marks the 4th anniversary of Springer’s repatriation. The little orphan orca, who’s dramatic rescue and return to her family captivated the world in 2002, is now 6 years old and a fully functional member of her A4 pod and Northern Resident orca community. Springer was in her usual place in Yakat’s A11 matriline when she first arrived in the Johnstone Strait on June 27th, and (with the others) quickly settled into the familiar summer routine of socializing, feasting on the new season’s salmon runs, and rubbing her still-small body in the smooth pebbles that make up the “rubbing” beaches of the Michael Bigg-Robson Bight Ecological Reserve.

On the anniversary eve of her repatriation, Springer was amongst a large, energetic group of orcas that included all 3 matrilines of the A4 pod (A11s, A24s, A35s) as well as the  A8s, a group from the A5 pod. Just after dawn, the orcas traveled quickly from eastern Johnstone Strait, swimming easily with one of the biggest ebb tides of the year; they were in a boisterous mood, evident from flukes flipping, spyhops, breaches and sudden splashes as they headed through Blackfish Sound and past Dong Chong Bay, the site of Springer’s release; then, when the tide turned to flood again, all the orcas headed back to Johnstone Strait, where they met up with the A12s, one of the A1 pod matrilines. The A12s were headed west, pushing against the tide, but as so often happens when orcas meet, Springer’s crowd turned & joined them. An hour later, all the orcas had turned and were east bound again, now swimming with the tide, heading towards the Ecological Reserve and the rubbing beaches, their voices joined in a rowdy chorus. Such is the day by day routine for young Springer. Quite clearly she is thriving, visibly bigger than a year ago, and absolutely at home.

We can’t know what Springer was thinking as she swam along in the early evening, but couldn’t help noting that all of the orcas into whose company Springer had been released on that remarkable day in 2002 were once again with her.

OrcaLab News – October 4th, 2005


Like the touch of fine silk caressing skin, Springer’s presence amidst her community was barely noticeable this summer. She was there, but she has become integrated so well that it was often difficult to find her among the crowd of other orcas visiting Johnstone Strait. By no means invisible, and still clearly identifiable via her striking “open” saddle patch, Springer is now a normal young orca in practically every way. Her status as an orphan, and the extraordinary adventure that took her away from home and then back again, of course make her unique. But it is clear that Springer has now joined the ordinary flow of life of the northern resident orca community, that she has a secure place among her close and distant kin, that she is where she belongs!

Springer was among the first “northern resident” orcas that returned to the Johnstone Strait this summer, on June 22nd. It was early morning at first light, and they came along the Hanson Island shoreline in Blackney Pass in a playful muddle of A12s, A4s and A5s. They were so close to us, and so jumbled together, that it was surprisingly difficult to determine exactly who was there. From their mix of A1, A4 & A5 calls, we had known whom to anticipate, but still we were only able to confirm just a few individuals. One group of 4 matched the profile of Springer’s adoptive family, Yakat’s “A11” matriline. It wasn’t a positive identification, but we believed Springer was there.  At a certain point, we decided to relax and absorb the beautiful whale-filled moment, enjoying the spyhops and breaches that punctuated the orcas’ swim towards Johnstone Strait. All too soon, they disappeared from sight.

Over the next 2 weeks we thought we heard Springer’s unique voice several times, but a definite sighting did not occur until July 8th. The day before, we had become momentarily worried when Yakat (A11) and her 2 offspring, A13 & A56, passed by us in clear view, without Springer! Then we heard an “A4” voice among the calls of Scimitar`s “A12” family, which was following the A11s. We thought that Springer may have gone off to play with her young cousins, but could not spot her among the group. The next day, Springer finally showed herself to us, in her usual place beside her great aunt Yakat. In the weeks that followed, Springer and the other “A11s” spent much of their time in eastern Johnstone Strait, making only occasional trips to the west and into our view. In the east, she spent a lot of time with the A8 matriline of the A5 pod, and seemed to especially enjoy the company of Holly (A42) and her 2 year old baby, A79. On July 21st, the A8s and A11s made a brief visit to western Johnstone Strait, with Springer in their midst. For a few days after, the A8s & A11s travelled with Scimitar’s family (the A12s), forming an old comfortable alliance that we have seen before. It wasn’t long, however, before they left the A12s and returned to the east.

Springer was among a crowd of 60 orcas when she departed the “core area” on September 6th . This was the last day we saw her this summer. Now 5 years old, and visibly bigger than she was a year ago, Springer is becoming increasing comfortable among the other orcas, blending with her community. We take this as a sign of success. It is also an affirmation that the efforts of so many, that led to Springer`s 2002 return to her family and community, were well worthwhile.

Thanks to Paul Tixier for the photos of Springer, and John & Linda Gansner of Robson Bight Charters for their reports about Springer when she was in eastern Johnstone Strait.

-Dr. Paul Spong and Helena Symonds, OrcaLab


Before we get to the first reports on Springer, we’ve included our favorite wrap-up piece on the effort, which aired on ABC World News Tonight With Peter Jennings. I’ve been a Contributing Producer/Wildlife Specialist for ABC News and Good Morning America for years, but now the story literally was happening in my backyard, the waters off Seattle. And it ended at my friends’ place – the waters off OrcaLab, BC. I was able to provide my desk the first images of Springer back in the Sound and the first back with her family. And to convey the real spirit of the accomplishment to the producers back in New York and LA, which I think comes across in the story. I know that this was one of Peter’s favorite stories of all time… and that’s saying a lot. Wherever you are, Peter – Springer and her family send their best wishes.

Michael Harris, Orca Conservancy.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002 (also BBC News)

ABC World News Tonight With Peter Jennings

“Family Found”

springer.page3.leftPeter Jennings:
On World News Tonight this Wednesday… “Family Found.” That baby whale in Canada is doing fine. Her grandmother’s on the job…

Tease #1:

Peter Jennings: When we come back… The laws that let eye doctors keep prescriptions secret – forcing patients to pay top dollar for contact lenses and it may be “Your Money.” White-collar criminals set a crash course on life behind bars – we’ll take “A Closer Look.” And a reunion for the young killer whale in Canada – she is finally with family…

Michael Harris, Orca Conservancy: I don’t think anything even close to this has happened. I mean, this is totally unprecedented.

Tease #2:

Peter Jennings: When we come back this evening, the last item in the broadcast. That young whale we got so attached to earlier in the summer, she’s with family again.


Peter Jennings: Finally from us this evening, the family reunion that worked against the odds. The tiny killer whale, tiny by orca standards, who was found sick and orphaned in a Seattle harbor, was spotted with her family near Port Hardy on Vancouver Island.

Here is Neal Karlinsky.

OrcaLab Video/courtesy OrcaLab and Orca Conservancy: Springer with family. Sound-up, Anna Spong, OrcaLab researcher: There she is, in the back.

Neal Karlinsky: These pictures are the first evidence that an unprecedented rescue effort by American and Canadian scientists actually worked. A73, the orphaned orca found in Seattle, is seen here surrounded by family for the first time.

John Nightingale, Vancouver Aquarium: (I’ve been) more than amazed. I’ve been a fascinated spectator, watching these whales get used to each other and her integration into her larger family group.

Neal Karlinsky: The 2-year-old baby orca spent months alone, far from her family, in the waters off Seattle. Scientists captured the whale, barged her to a holding pen in Canadian waters and watched in amazement as she began to react wildly to members of her home pod swimming nearby.

Lance Barret-Lennard, Vancouver Aquarium: Her calls were so loud they practically blew our headphones off.

Neal Karlinsky: Even as the young whale swam near her pod after being released, scientists were unsure if A73’s family would accept her. Scientists have never before successfully reintroduced a whale to its family.

Michael Harris, Orca Conservancy: People told us we were crazy. They said this can’t be done, it’s never been done. And we’ve proved them wrong.

Neal Karlinsky: A73 now spends most of her time swimming with three older females, including the one scientists have identified as her grandmother. This whale, who became so familiar, is free and wild again.
Neal Karlinsky, ABC News, Seattle.

Peter Jennings: And that’s our report on “World News Tonight.” We’ll be back tomorrow.




Before we get to the A73 Saga, a few stories on the Dungeness Stranding…or “Springer – The Prelude.

January 3, 2002

Stranded Orca Freed

By KOMO Staff & News Services

SEQUIM – A killer whale that repeatedly stranded itself in Washington’s Dungeness Bay near Sequim is free.

A National Marine Fisheries spokesman in Seattle, Brian Gorman, says rescuers towed it through the bay’s inlet into the open water of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

It was swimming west toward the Pacific Ocean Friday afternoon.

It was the sixth attempt to free the adult male since it was discovered Wednesday in the bay with a female that beached itself and died. Five other times the male swam back to shore.

Gorman says a cheer went up among more than a dozen rescuers as the orca finally took off in the right direction.

They are still monitoring the 21-foot whale and trying to remove a float still attached to a flipper.

Tests on the dead female have not yet indicated what caused her death. Gorman says the cause of the stranding may never be known.

January 3, 2002

Orca Rescued from Dungeness Bay Sandbar

Second killer whale dies; necropsy planned for today

By Luke Bogues
Peninsula Daily News, Port Angeles

SEQUIM – Rescuers freed a killer whale from a Dungeness Bay sandbar Wednesday afternoon but were too late to save a second whale found dead.

Officials will perform a necropsy today on the carcass of the female killer whale that died near Dungeness Bay. Workers were expected to mobilize today at daybreak to move the carcass to a location where scientists can determine what killed the marine mammal.

Officials also plan to monitor the status of the male killer whale rescuers freed shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday. Stranding Coordinator Brent Norberg of the National Marine Fisheries Service said the killer whale remained swimming in the bay after rescuers used rope to pull the male orca off the sandbar and into open water. Before nightfall, the whale was free swimming, but not heading toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca, he said.

Lingering killer whale?

This morning, the U.S. Coast Guard will assist rescuers determine if the living whale is lingering, Norberg said. Should the male orca beach itself again, rescuers will again pull it into open water and try to persuade it to leave the bay, he said. “That seems to be the least invasive method,” Norberg said.

Killer whales found

Rescuers became aware of the stranded whale Wednesday morning when a resident on the bluff overlooking Dungeness Spit discovered the orca after hearing peculiar noises and notified officials, Dungeness Recreation Area manager John Pease said. Workers from the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge were the first on scene, Norberg said.

When rescue workers arrived, they found the male in water just inches below the top of the whale, Norberg said. The dead whale was later spotted when a Seattle-based helicopter crew flying over Dungeness Bay spotted the carcass, Norberg said. The dead female’s carcass washed ashore just outside the bay.

Resident or transient?

Researchers are still unsure if the whales are from resident or transient pods, Norberg said. The orcas could be from one of three resident pods in Puget Sound or may have split off from migrating transient pods. Typically, transient whale hunt

seals and resident whales eat salmon, officials have said. Washington State Patrol officials received reports of three killer whales hunting seals off Dungeness Spit on Tuesday. Researchers are unsure if the two whales found on Wednesday could be connected with those sightings, Norberg said.


January3, 2002

Female Orca Dies on Sequim Beach

KING 5 News (NBC Seattle)

A female killer whale died on a beach in Dungeness Spit Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2002.

Rescue workers were able to free a male whale who was beached in the same area. Kelley Balcomb-Bartok of the Center for Whale Research was on the scene and in an interview on KING 5 News said he believes the male is related to the female and is in mourning.

The whales are believed to be transient whales and not members of the three local pods.

January 3, 2002

One Killer Whale Stranded, Another Dies

The Seattle Times

A male killer whale couldn’t find his way out of Dungeness Bay on the north side of the Olympic Peninsula last night even after a rescue crew pulled him into deeper water. Roughly two miles away, a female orca was found dead.

Officials with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife found the male whale stranded in shallow water about 1 p.m. yesterday. Working with biologists from the Olympic Coast National Sanctuary, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a number of whale-research agencies, state wildlife workers waited for high tide and, shortly after 4 p.m., roped the male and pulled him with a boat into deeper water.

January 3, 2002

Whale Experts Hope to Learn Why Orca Died

KIRO 7 News (CBS Seattle)

Orca Conservancy and Earth Island Institute today filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to determine whether or not U.S. Navy sonar tests being conducted in the area contributed to the death of a transient orca and the stranding of another yesterday on Dungeness Spit…

January 4, 2002

The Struggle to Save An Orca: With One Killer Whale Dead Nearby, Rescuers Fight to Keep Another Alive

The Seattle Times

A small army of researchers yesterday struggled with the two-fisted task of saving one killer whale trapped behind the Dungeness Spit and figuring out what killed another orca found nearby.

Rescuers managed several times to pull the live whale, a male, close to open water, only to have him slip out of an inch-thick rope harness, swim away and strand himself again. As of late yesterday, he was still trapped.

Dave Ellifrit of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor yesterday said he was all but certain the two whales are transients that appear here less regularly and eat marine mammals instead of salmon.

springer.6.llJanuary 5, 2002

Rescuers Finally Tow Orca to Deep Water

The Seattle Times

Its belly cut by shellfish, its organs straining under the heft of its own weight, a young male orca trapped inside the Dungeness Spit was finally towed to deep water yesterday — seeming healthy, but minus a companion.

Young male orca are known to travel for years alongside their mothers, and her death might explain the bull’s reluctance to leave. “We’re dealing with behavior,” said Schroeder, the veterinarian who also participated in the necropsy. “We’re not dealing with illness.”


January 6, 2002

Whale Finally Towed to Safety

After Six Tries It Was Swimming Out to Open Ocean


A killer whale that repeatedly beached itself alongside the Olympic Peninsula’s Dungeness Bay, frustrating would-be rescuers for two days, was finally towed to safety yesterday. He headed for the open ocean. “He started chugging west, and he hasn’t made a turn yet,” Brian Gorman, a National Marine Fisheries Service spokesman, reported before dusk.

The orca came very close to being euthanized.

Rescuers decided to try for a sixth and possibly final time to pull the five-ton creature out of the bay at midday yesterday.

This time, they were aided by a special sling borrowed from the Vancouver Aquarium. Previously, they had rigged a makeshift rope harness around it, and it slipped off before he could be towed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

“It feels good to have him out free and swimming,” said Dyanna Lambourn, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife who aided in the rescue. “He seemed to be swimming with a direction in mind.”

Researchers fitted the adult orca with a transmitter that would track the animal’s movements for 24 hours. Scientists were anxiously tracking it.

“Everybody’s holding their breath,” Lambourn said.

The drama began Wednesday when a dead female orca was spotted alongside the bay near Sequim, at the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula. The male was lurking nearby in shallow water. Over the next few days, scores of people hiked out to Dungeness Spit to get a look at the stranded whale.

Researchers’ attention now turns to trying to explain the self-destructive behavior of the orcas. Killer whales only infrequently beach themselves. Some other whales and porpoises more commonly do so. The phenomenon is poorly understood by scientists.

Environmentalists yesterday raised questions about whether military sonar might have caused or contributed to this week’s beachings. They filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Navy, seeking information about its operations around Puget Sound.

Fred Felleman of Orca Conservancy, who is working with the San Francisco-based Earth Island Institute on the information request, pointed to a preliminary report released last week in which the Navy acknowledged that sonar was the likely cause of the beaching of 16 whales and a dolphin in the Bahamas in March 2000. Seven died.

Felleman, who studied orcas’ feeding habits for his graduate degree at the University of Washington, said there are a number of plausible explanations for the beachings. For example, he said, the female orca may have been trying to catch a harbor seal on the beach and got too far up onto the sand to make it back into the water.

The orcas are not members of the groups that are typically found in Puget Sound for much of the year, but rather are thought to be “transient” killer whales that range worldwide and feed primarily on marine mammals. The diet of the local whales, which take off each year and migrate south before returning, is mostly fish.

Both groups are contaminated by polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, an industrial product widely used in electrical equipment until the 1970s. Levels are higher in the transient orcas because the seals and other marine mammals they eat are closer to the top of the food chain.

Researchers took samples of the dead orca’s body parts for further analysis and cut off the head, which can be examined for damage by sonar. Orcas use their own version of sonar to navigate underwater and to find food.

A Marine Fisheries Service veterinarian will examine the head in the next few days, and tests will be run on levels of PCBs and other toxins in the carcass, Gorman said.


January 6, 2002

Orca Makeover: From ‘Killer’ to Icon

The Seattle Times

Human fascination with the creature burned bright last week at the drama of two whales beached near Sequim. A dead female brought tears from onlookers. A stranded male, possibly her offspring, brought bittersweet joy as rescuers towed him to the wide waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Dave Ellifrit, a researcher for the Center for Whale Research, said much of the good that comes to orcas can help other creatures as well.

“In order to save the charismatic creatures, you have to save the environment they’re in,” he said. “Sometimes, it takes a poster child to hook people before they learn about all the intricacies of the food web.”

January 6, 2002

Extraordinary Efforts Save Stranded Whale

Story by Sharon Kivisto, San Juan Islander

Representatives of the State Fish & Wildlife Service aboard an Olympic Coast Marine Sanctuary vessel tow the male past the entrance to Dungeness Spit and back safely into deeper water.

Wet blankets, zinc oxide and determined whale researchers saved a male orca stranded in Dungeness Spit last week. A dead female orca was found in the same area. The whales were not members of the three resident pods which are frequently seen around the San Juans.

Kelley Balcomb-Bartok, a Friday Harbor whale expert and Board Member of Orca Conservancy, heard about the stranding around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2002. Realizing he couldn’t get to the scene before nightfall if he took the ferry, he called KING 5 News. They picked him up with a helicopter and took him to the beach near Sequim. Having the aerial perspective came in handy in helping the people on the ground locate the two whales.

The rescue effort for the male orca involved researchers, state wildlife personnel, and volunteers. The whale was fully out of the water both nights. Wet blankets were placed on top of the marine mammal. Zinc oxide was used to lubricate the blow hole and dorsal fin. On Thursday five attempts to move the whale out of the shallow spit and into the open water were unsuccessful. The whale managed to roll out of the sling placed around him. One attempt used an oyster barge with a crane. “He just about pulled the crane over,” said Balcomb-Bartok. Despite appearing lethargic, the whale was very strong he said.

The whale beached himself again Thursday night and spent another six to seven hours out of the water. His breathing was labored and his pectoral fin was becoming crushed by the weight. The rescuers worked in shifts and poured buckets of water over the whale throughout the night.

Measurements were taken. A local hospital tested blood drawn from the whale. The tests showed the animal was healthy but dehydrated. He had low levels of proteins. Balcomb-Bartok speculated the whales were related and that the younger male was in mourning and that explained his behaviour.

On Friday, the sixth attempt to lead the whale out to open water was successful. The rescuers retied the ropes and placed buoys on the whale’s tail which seemed to calm him down. State fisheries enforcement officers using a depth sounder led the way in the first boat. Two miles out, the crews pulled the rope.

“The farther out we got, he became a little shyer and more of a whale,” said Balcomb-Bartok. “He literally swam off into the sunset.”

A time/depth recorder (TDR) was placed on the whale during the rescue effort. The device stays on the whale for up to 100 hours. Saturday, Jen Schorr, of Marine Research Consultants, determined the whale had most likely left the strait since the signals from the transmitter could no longer be picked up. Attempts will be made to locate the bright yellow TDR using its transmitter. Once it is located, the information will be downloaded onto a computer and analyzed.

springer.8.llThe unidentified transient male swimming free in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The animal continued to head west into the sunset, while the rope visible on his back is believed to be merely pinched by his pectoral fins and is expected to eventually fall away. Photo: San Juan Islander.


January 7, 2002

Freed Orca Still Can’t Be Located; IDed in 1996

Peninsula Daily News

Scientists say they still don’t know where the young male killer whale rescued from the Dungeness Spit’s inner bay might be swimming. A small radio transmitter placed near the dorsal fin didn’t work, or fell off, and the orca hasn’t been seen since late Friday.

When last spotted, the five-ton, 22-foot orca was in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, apparently in reasonably good shape, heading west toward the open Pacific at speeds up to 7 or 8 knots.

Meanwhile, the Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Cascadia Research identified the two orcas by the shape of spots near their dorsal fins. Both had been seen in a group of 10 whales in Coos Bay off Oregon on Sept. 12, 1996. They were recorded as CA-188 and CA-189.

Monday, January 7

Orca Detected at the Strait

The Seattle Times

NEAH BAY – A male orca pulled last week from a shallow bay behind Dungeness Spit appears to have made it to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Brad Hanson, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, picked up a signal around 10 p.m. Sunday from a transmitter affixed to the orca.

The signal, which came from southwest of Neah Bay, was faint but moving, said Brian Gorman, an NMFS spokesman.

Meanwhile, Dave Ellifrit of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor has tentatively identified the whale from photographs taken of 10 transient orcas seen feeding on porpoises off Coos Bay in 1996.

Also among the group was the female, possibly the male’s mother, who was dead near Sequim last week.

January 8, 2002

Orca Detected at the Strait

The Seattle Times

Brad Hanson, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, picked up a signal around 10 p.m. Sunday from a transmitter affixed to the orca. The signal, which came from southwest of Neah Bay, was faint but moving, said Brian Gorman, an NMFS spokesman.

Meanwhile, Dave Ellifrit of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor has tentatively identified the whale from photographs taken of 10 transient orcas seen feeding on porpoises off Coos Bay in 1996. Also among the group was the female, possibly the male’s mother, who was dead near Sequim last week.

Stranding of Two Transient Orcas at Dungeness Spit

Chronology of Events

What follows is a chronology of the stranding of two transient orcas near Sequim.

Data downloaded from the VHF radio tag on the rescued male transient

On the morning of January 2, 2002, a resident on the bluff overlooking Dungeness Spit discovered an orca in shallow water, moving very slowly, and notified officials of the Dungeness Recreation Area. Workers from the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge were the first on the scene. Officials from the National Marine Sanctuary were notified, and they in turn contacted Brent Norberg of National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). A dead whale was later spotted by a Seattle-based helicopter crew flying over Dungeness Bay.

Within hours the dead orca, a female, was located near Dungeness Spit, while the other, a male, remained almost immobile inside the spit in shallow water. Teams consisting of NMFS, DFW (Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife), The Center for Whale Research and Cascadia Research were on the scene by 4 PM. The male orca was helped out to deeper water, but as darkness fell he had returned and was still inside the spit, swimming slugglishly.

On January 3, a team of scientists arrived on scene in the morning to conduct a necropsy of the dead female orca to determine cause of death. Meanwhile, rescue crews, some in the water or on the orca’s back for hours at a time, attempted to tow the male to deeper water. The orca repeatedly slipped out of the tow ropes and beached himself. Although he was vocalizing, he seemed disoriented and oblivious to his surroundings, even colliding with floating driftwood at one point. He remained aground during the night, where volunteers covered him with blankets to keep him wet. He became dehydrated and blood tests showed signs of stress.


In the morning of January 4 rescuers were able to once again tow him into deeper water, but were not able to get him outside the hook-shaped sandbar of the spit. All through the day the male orca evaded repeated attempts to tow him to deeper water. At midday rescuers decided to attempt once again to tow the whale out to deeper water before his condition deteriorated further. By 4:30 the rescue team was finally able to successfully tow the male orca out of Dungeness Bay. As the sun set he was independently swimming west out the Strait of Juan de Fuca at a steady pace of around 4 knots.

On January 5 Dave Ellifrit of the Center for Whale Research identified the two orcas by the saddle patch below their dorsal fins. Both had been photographed in a group of 10 whales in Coos Bay, Oregon on Sept. 12, 1996. They were confirmed to be mammal-eating transient orcas, rather than the fish-eating resident types usually encountered in Washington’s inland waters.

Initial results from the gross examination of the dead female identified no clear cause of death. There were no apparent injuries or illness, and the remains of at least two freshly killed seals were in her stomach. Around 10 PM on January 7, the male, outfitted with a suction-cup radio tag, was detected by Brad Hanson of NMFS from a hilltop just south of Neah Bay. The orca was swimming normally a few miles SW of Neah Bay.

On January 29, Seattle Times reported that Joe Barton of Shelton, Mason County, was beachcombing near Ocean Shores the previous week and chanced upon a time-depth recording tag that had been attached to the male orca in Sequim. Data on the device showed the orca had been traveling at 2 to 3 mph, regularly diving between 50 and 80 feet, then surfacing for about a dozen breaths before diving again. All of which suggests he was doing well.

Thanks are due to:

Steve Jeffries, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was probably the central person coordinating the rescue efforts onsite. Dyanna Lambourn-Hughes, Monique Lance and Tammy Schmidt of DFW played crucial roles.

Brent Norberg coordinated all activities from NMFS. Brian Gorman, Robyn Angliss, Marilyn Dahlheim and Brad Hanson, all from the NMFS National Marine Mammal Laboratory, were key in all aspects of the operation.

Ed Bowlby, Andy Palmer, Mary Superkarno and Liam Antrim of the Olympic Coast Marine Sanctuary provided constant support.

Jeff Foster, Jennifer Schorr and Greg Schorr did much of the in-water work with the live whale.

The necropsy on the dead female was conducted by John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research, with Stephanie Norman and Gina Iatelo of NMFS, David Huff, Steven Raferty, Lance Barrett-Lennard and Brian Sheehan of Vancouver Aquarium, Rich Osborne and Albert Shepard of the Whale Museum, and Dave Ellifrit of Center for Whale Research, who also ultimately identified the whales from photographs.

Debbie Nelson, of Olympic Medical Center, tested the blood.

Pete Shroeder, Mary Sue Brancato, Mac Peterson, Kelley Balcomb-Bartok and Joe Gaydos were helpful in a variety of ways.

The U.S. Coast Guard did several surveys of the region.

Battelle Marine Science Laboratory Northwest provided equipment and logistics.

Port Townsend Marine Science Center provided volunteers.

The Dungeness Salmon Hatchery provided cold storage.

Farmer Gary Smith allowed his field to be used for the necropsy.

Steve and Mike provided their oyster barge.

Many other nameless citizens from the Sequim community helped out however they could, including the pizza delivery guy.


What follows is a chronological archive of news reports, dating back to the first reports of her discovery in Puget Sound, all the way through her rescue, translocation and successful repatriation back to her natal pod in Johnstone Strait.






These are the first reports of possible sightings of a mysterious young orca in North Puget Sound – posted by Orca Network on Orca Conservancy’s e-mail list. Coming off the heels of the stranding event of two transient orcas at Dungeness Spit near Port Angeles, WA, many researchers thought this orca might be the offspring of the female transient that didn’t survive the stranding. Turns out, she was an orphan, just not related to the deceased transient female. We would learn that this whale actually came from The Northern Resident Community of orcas of Johnstone Strait, some 250 miles north. No one knows how she got so far south. When asked by the local media for an explanation, Orca Conservancy’s Michael Harris guessed that her extraordinary journey might be akin to that of a stray cat or dog who wanders away from home and goes from “backyard food bowl to food bowl, neighborhood to neighborhood, traveling in one direction, until one day it finds itself a huge distance from where it’s supposed to be.” Another possible explanation is related to an extremely rare sighting of Northern Resident orcas in Southern Resident territory on September 8, 2000 (see page 4), with Springer possibly losing her group at that time. In any event, we knew we had both an extraordinary event and an extraordinary animal in our backyard. But rather than see Springer as some did, as a diseased, failing whale who may not be worth rescuing, Orca Conservancy saw a survivor. Clearly, she made it this far because she was resourceful, and that boded well for chances to save her and return her to her family.


Thursday, January 3rd – Jack Sanford:

Yesterday at dusk he saw what he is 90% sure was a small orca swimming in the channel. Subsequent callers reported seeing a small orca in Swinomish Channel Wednesday, Jan 2 and Thursday Jan 3. Note: We have also received several additional reports of a small “mystery” orca in Swinomish Channel near LaConner yesterday afternoon, so we are asking anyone in that general area to please look for this animal & call us if you see it. There is some concern that it could possibly be connected to the strandings in Dungeness Bay, & in any case, it is very strange behavior for an orca to be in the channel for several days like this. On Friday Shane Agergaard of Island Adventures in Anacortes searched around Fidalgo Island and down Swinomish Channel to Hole-in-the-Wall but did not find the orca.

Thursday, January 10th – Marilyn Dahlheim, National Marine Fisheries Service:

We got a call at 1:30 a.m. this morning from the Arthur Foss Tug, which was at the Oil Dock at Pt. Wells, south of Edmonds. They reported a young orca (8-9′ in length) swimming back & forth right next to the ship they were getting ready to escort out. They said the orca was moving slowly, & staying near the surface, & had been there about 45 minutes. The description & behavior sounded very much like the reports of the whale in Swinomish Channel, & again, the guys on the Foss Tug reported it had a white belly & were very sure it was an orca. We have reported this to NMFS, & checked again with the crew of the Foss, but their last report was at 2 am when they pulled away from the dock & the whale was still there.

Monday, January 14 – An update on the orca calf off Vashon Island, from Mark Sears via Marilyn Dahlheim:

The calf is 8 – 10′, its skin is grayish & mottled, with some abrasions. It is alone, & its behavior ranged from being lethargic to breaching & spy-hopping. It was also approaching boats. This could’ve been the same whale reported previously & thought to be “Foster” the pseudorca – at least now we know there IS a small, lone orca out there acting strange, & it’s a great relief to have him located & photographed, thanks to Mark Sears. Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research is on his way to help identify and figure out what’s going on with this little critter.

Thanks again to all who have helped to try & locate this whale over the past week or so – & stay tuned for the latest info. on this unfolding mystery~ *

[2:30 PM] The mystery continues with another sighting of a lone, young orca today, Jan. 14th. Marilyn Dahlheim of NMFS just called to tell us that Mark Sears of Seattle reported this whale at 2:30 pm off Vashon Island. Mark is out with the whale now, so we will FINALLY get some photos &/or video footage of this little mystery whale! We’ll let you know as soon as we hear anything more – stay tuned…


Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.21.12 AM


Throughout the SPRINGER FILE, we’ve decided to also present this amazing story as told and illustrated by Vi Hughes and Daniel Grenier in the Scholastic Canada children’s Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.25.23 AMbook, “A Pod for a Baby Orca.” Orca Conservancy President Michael Harris worked closely with the publishers during the creation of this book, providing still images from video – or “frame grabs” – culled from footage Michael either shot in

Seattle and Johnstone Strait or that he sourced through his friends at OrcaLab. The author and illustrator referenced those frame grabs to create their book.

Since that magical summer of 2002, Springer’s story has been recounted in several children’s books, including the wonderful “Springer’s Journey” (left), written by Seattle’s Naomi Black and illustrated by Virginia Hanson – also created with the help of OrcaLab.

Of course, when you’re telling this story to kids, it’s best to keep it as simple as possible. The true story of Springer’s historic rescue and reintroduction to her family involved equal parts magic and grown-up greed, treachery and back-door dealing. But both these books do a terrific job capturing the tremendous spirit and wonder that all of us experienced during the project, despite the hardships. And hopefully they’ve inspired millions of kids to stick their necks out as we all did to help save whales.

Screen shot 2013-04-01 at 2.50.53 PM


Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.27.18 AM


January 16, 2002

Young Orca Discovered Alone in Puget Sound

KING 5 News (NBC Seattle)

A young whale was seen swimming alone between the Fauntleroy ferry dock and north Vashon Island. The whale is about 11 feet long and assumed to be about 2.5 years old.

“He’s a juvenile, he’s past nursing, so he’s not dependent on his mother for milk. He’s dependent on his family for social context. I think that’s why he’s responding now. We give him a little encouragement here and he checked us out,” said Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research.

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 11.27.34 AMJanuary 17, 2002

Where Is The Rest Of His Family?

By Kevin Reece, KOMO 4 News

SEATTLE – Researchers are closer to identifying the young orca swimming alone between West Seattle and Vashon Island. After watching it for three days they no longer feel the whale is in any immediate danger.

Whale researchers Mark Sears and Ken Balcomb with the Center for Whale

Research at Friday Harbor have been observing and photographing the whale since it was first seen alone near the Vashon ferry dock. It’s 11 feet long, about two years old and apparently in good health.

FIRST ENCOUNTER. Ken Balcomb, Mark Sears and a mysterious, solitary baby orca in the waters off Seattle, WA.

“The whale’s looking healthy,” Balcomb told KOMO 4 News. “It looks good. I’d say there’s no concern for its health at this time.”

But even though the whale appears to be feeding on its own it is highly unusual for any orca, especially one this young, to be on its own.

“Maybe its mamma told him to stay in one spot until they come home,” Balcomb surmised. “Or maybe its just that there’s food available here and why go anywhere else.

Balcomb admits the other possibility is that its the calf of the transient orca from a California pod that beached itself the first week of January at Dungeness Spit. An adult male orca that also beached itself was towed back to open water and was last reported swimming free in the ocean southwest of Neah Bay.

“That’s remotely possible but its behaving to me like a resident,” said Balcomb.

To identify the lone orca near Vashon, Balcomb and other researchers have videotaped and photographed the whale’s distinctive eye patch, its dorsal fin, and saddle. They plan to compare the information and look for a match in the extensive database of Northwest orca populations.

Balcomb and Sears even got close enough to the lone whale to rub a green pad on its back. They hope to get enough skin samples to run DNA tests and determine if it does belong to a pod in southern Puget Sound. That’s the first goal.

“The second goal,” said Balcomb, “is to try and give it enough sanctuary where it would be able to do its natural thing and be healthy until its family comes home.”

Researchers are also checking with other whale experts to find out if anyone has recorded this “podless” behavior in this young and orca before.


January 19, 2002

Podless in Seattle – Experts Ask Public to Give Orca Space

KING 5 News (NBC Seattle)

ANCHOR: A young orca found alone off West Seattle is baffling local researchers.

Sound-up, Ken Balcomb, The Center for Whale Research: “I’ve never seen anything like this before!”

ANCHOR: The orca, thought to be about two years old, turned up alone in mid-Puget Sound last week. It was first thought to be possibly the calf of this transient orca, which washed up dead on Dungeness Spit earlier this month. But now researcher Ken Balcomb thinks it may be from one of the Pacific Northwest’s resident communities of orcas.

Ken Balcomb: “It’s behaving to me a lot like a resident.”

ANCHOR: And that behavior is what concerns local environmental groups like Orca Conservancy.

Michael Harris, Orca Conservancy: “This is what we call a ‘friendly,’ a whale that is solitary, socially starved and increasingly unafraid of boats.”

ANCHOR: And that’s not a good thing for an area that loves boats, and loves killer whales.

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 12.04.46 PMMichael Harris: “The message we want to get out to boaters is, no matter how much you want to help this whale, do not approach it, don’t feed it. That could create enormous problems for any wild animal.

“A fed whale is a dead whale.”

February 2002

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 12.08.49 PM

Dr. Paul Spong and Helena Symonds of OrcaLab.


February 1, 2002

Here’s an e-mail update I received today:

“Borca”? “Slough”? “Orphan Annie”?

None of the above! Despite all the great affectionate monikers we’ve mustered up, OrcaLab’s Helena Symonds has reminded us

“Southern” folks that A73, the wrongway orphan calf making so much news down here in the mid-Sound, already has a name, thank you very much. She’s “Springer,” as in Springer Pass, one of the orca habs up around Johnstone Strait. Her mum was A45, or “Sutlej,” and of course she passed away last year. Springer’s grandmum is A24, or “Kelsey.”

Spread the word. And spread the word that the rumors of her demise (or incarceration) have been greatly exaggerated. She’s chasing big salmon and seemingly OK for now. We’ll find a way to get her home.


Michael Harris
Orca Conservancy


March 2002

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 12.15.32 PM

Presented by Orca Conservancy and Earth Island Institute

Rehabilitation Proposal

SUBMITTED to National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) on 3/1/02.

Re: Translocation and Repatriation of the Orphaned Orca Calf A73 (aka “Springer”) With Natal Pod via Towable Seapen.

Objective: To Maximize Chances of Successful Rehabilitation by Minimizing Transportation Stress and Human Contact.

Presented by Orca Conservancy and Earth Island Institute.

Scientifically Reviewed by Dr. David Bain, University of Washington; Dr. Samuel Wasser, Woodland Park Zoo; Fred Felleman, MSc., Orca Conservancy; and Dr. Paul Spong and Helena Symonds, OrcaLab.

Screen shot 2013-03-16 at 4.47.42 PM

NAMU is towed via seapen from Namu, BC to Seattle, 1965.


The recent stranding of a transient killer whale in Sequim, Washington and the matter of the isolated juvenile killer whales, A73 and L98, from threatened resident communities in the Pacific Northwest, demonstrate the need to enhance the region’s marine mammal stranding/response capabilities. The success of the A73 repatriation effort will be enhanced by drawing on the complementary expertise of field, aquarium and government biologists, while drawing from lessons learned from Keiko and Namu. This effort will serve as a model for handling future incidents of this nature.

Phased approach:
1.) Independent ongoing observational data to assess baseline behavioral and physiological condition; i.e., respirations, activity levels and other indices of stress.

2.) Blood draw (taken in the field) to better assess the animal’s health and guide future intervention.

3.) Build hydrodynamic floating pen to temporarily hold and transport A73 while blood results are evaluated. Pen will be stocked with salmon and her feeding and stress levels monitored through behavioral and fecal stress hormone measures to assess transport readiness.

4.) If prolonged medical treatment is needed transfer to nearby embayment with lift may be required.

5.) When indicators suggest transport readiness, prearrange Customs clearance and initiate slow tow to embayment in Johnstone Strait stocked with wild salmon. Maintain behavior and fecal stress hormone collections.

6.) Transfer lead responsibility to Canadian Government, who have already declared the Northern population as threatened and the Southern Community endangered.

7.) Monitor whereabouts of A4-Pod (due back in Johnstone Strait between June and July), their response to A73, and vice versa, to decide when to open net and initiate repatriation. It is far more optimal to retain A73 in native waters than in mid-Puget Sound to optimize preparedness for reintroduction.

8.) Monitor whereabouts of Ls and seek Canadian support to apply same technique to L98 when timing allows.

In addition to providing for the best interests of A73 by reducing the stress of capture and transport to an aquarium, as well as minimizing human contact that could hinder future attempts to repatriate the animal, this towable seapen approach helps build the capacity to manage the region’s wealth of marine resources by tapping the broad array of expertise and public interest in this species in the Pacific Northwest.


Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 12.15.49 PM

L98, aka “Luna,” alone in BC’s Nootka Sound.

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 12.22.26 PM

Orca Conservancy Policy Position re: A73, the Wrongway Orca

Orca Conservancy believes that A73 is in no immediate danger of starvation, based on observations from scientists on OC’s Advisory Board, as well as Board Members Kelley Balcomb and Fred Felleman, MSc. and others. We feel it critical to take a thoughtful approach to intervention, should it be required. In such a case, OC proposes “THE NAMU SHUTTLE,” a transfer of the animal into a sea pen and towed to the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, BC. A73 would be fed and rehabbed and then towed north to a cove in Blackney Sound, her home waters. Attempts would be made there to repatriate her to her natal pod. This animal’s return to her family should be the ultimate goal of all parties involved, and certainly we have the expertise and resources among research institutions and non-profit organizations here in the Northwest to make it happen, as well as with our partner in these efforts, Earth Island Institute, the SF-based environmental organization responsible for assembling animal care staff and veterinary services and raised over $7 million toward the transport of Keiko from Mexico City to Oregon and the construction of the facility now in Newport. They are the most experienced and credible non-government non-profit organization in the field of orca translocation. In addition, the plan and teamwork we put in place now on the A73 question would be invaluable in our hopes of returning another wayward calf, our own L98 of the endangered Southern Community, back home from BC’s Nootka Sound.

Our position at Orca Conservancy is that we want to do what is best for the animal. As many among OC’s Board of Directors and Advisory Board have first-hand experience in the orca roundups of the 1960s and 1970s for the captive-display industry (OC Board Members Ralph and Karen Munro were instrumental in putting a stop to these captures), we feel strongly that all viable options need to be fully explored before any consideration is given to pulling this orphaned calf out of the water and translocating it into an aquarium, even for temporary rehabilitation purposes. We are committed to doing all we can to preserve the ban on the removal of any orcas from these waters, for any reason. Article 3 in the US District Court Stipulation of Dismissal concerning the State of Washington vs. Sea World, et al, is unequivocal~ it states that, “… Sea World will not exercise its right under Permit 22 or successor permits to take any Killer Whales within the waters of the State of Washington.” The document is dated and signed March 23, 1976. All residents of the Pacific Northwest need to remain vigilant. There is clearly great sensitivity in having the captive-display industry, including Sea World, once again working these local waters. In particular, many of these have long track records of “rescuing” animals, bringing them into “the care of humans,” and then unilaterally deciding that these creatures are unfit to return to wild. The human contact inherent in any translocation of a wild animal into a captive setting is the chief obstacle to reintroduction and must be avoided at all costs. OC believes that the rehabilitation and ultimate repatriation of A73 could be done via a towable seapen, requiring far less stress and human contact than an airlift to the Oregon Coast Aquarium or other aquaria which have offered to take the orca. Also, there is concern that while OCA is under a signed agreement with Free Willy Keiko Foundation (co-founded by Earth Island Institute’s Dave Phillips) forbidding the permanent display of orcas, the agreement does allow OCA to transfer the animal to another aquarium after it is successfully rehabilitated. Even to Sea World. Lastly, A73 is a Canadian resident. There is no need for this whale to remain in the United States.


Friday, March 1, 2002

Feds Consider Helping Orphan Orca Calf


SEATTLE — For weeks now, an orphan killer whale has been hanging around central Puget Sound— about 100 miles south of the state’s resident orcas in the San Juan Islands and even farther from her own pod in Canada. Killer whales are often seen in the south sound through the fall, hunting salmon and herring.

But this time of year there’s not much to eat. Both scientists and whale advocates are concerned about the health of the female calf spotted Jan 14. Last week, the National Marine Fisheries Service convened a panel of experts to discuss what to do.

Unlike the young whale, the issue is not black and white.

The options: let nature take its course; catch her in a net pen, check her health and try to return her to her family off British Columbia’s Vancouver Island or transport her to a commercial site such as Sea World, with operations in San Diego and Los Angeles.

Captivity is not a popular option. The Puget Sound orca population has never quite recovered from the hunts of the 1970s, when 57 were trapped for lives as captive performers, leaving just 70 behind. The population grew to 99 by 1995, but is now back down to 80, according to the Center for Whale Research at Friday Harbor.

The experts — veterinarians and biologists from state, federal and Canadian agencies and the private sector — have reached no consensus, NMFS spokesman Brian Gorman said Thursday.

A summary report shows most agreed the calf’s health seemed poor. While she generally seems “bright, alert and responsive,” veterinarians noted the smell of ketone— like alcohol — on her breath, which suggests she is beginning to digest her own blubber.

There were mixed feelings about intervention, which some feared could lead to dependency on humans. There were doubts about whether her pod — which apparently already left her behind once — would take her back. Gorman said his agency will likely decide whether to intervene over the next week. He called the decision “a very thorny one.”

If the 10- to 12-foot-long youngster’s health is declining — which new tests should help determine — letting nature take its course “realistically is not an option,” he said. “She’s in a very public location. People would want to feed her.”

Local advocacy groups have struggled with the issue.

“The last scenario that any of us want … is putting this whale in a tank,” said Michael Harris of the Orca Conservancy.

And most opposed leaving her to fend for herself if she is confirmed to be in trouble. But “as long as she appears healthy, we should let her be,” said Joe Olson with the Seattle chapter of the American Cetacean Society.

If she’s starving, which he considers unlikely — “she does know how to fish, otherwise she’d be dead by now” — Olson would support nursing her back to health in a net pen and trying to restore her to her own pod.

“It’s speculation to say she’s been abandoned,” he said.

Strangely, a solitary orphan male from the San Juan Islands population has been spotted on the west side of Vancouver Island. A single displaced calf is unusual. Two from different pods is quite bizarre, Harris said.

The orphan female, born in 2000, is called A73 for her birth order in Canada’s A-pod. She was identified through photographs of her black-and-white pattern and recordings that confirmed she uses the northern population’s dialect.


According to Canadian researchers, her mother, A45, is dead. The calf was apparently left behind by her pod, where her only known relative was a grandmother. Last year, she was seen by Canadian researchers with a female from a different pod, the NMFS summary report said.

Now she’s alone—and lonely.

“She’s starved for attention,” said Fred Felleman of the Orca Conservancy. “This is highly undesirable. The less contact with people the better if she’s to be returned to the wild.”


Marine Biologists Continue Debate Over Lone Orca in Puget Sound

KING 5 News (NBC Seattle)

VASHON ISLAND, Wash. – Researchers are debating whether to take drastic action to try to save a young orca swimming alone near Vashon Island.

Concern for the young orca began when she was found swimming solo near Vashon Island, somehow orphaned by her pod far from her home north of Vancouver Island. Experts believe her survival is threatened.

Marine experts are conflicted on how to help this young whale. They can’t agree yet on what to do about the young orca whale, but they know whatever they ultimately decide will set a new precedent on how to handle orphaned orcas in the future.

The whale is orphaned at a time when there’s just not much found out there in the Puget Sound waters. Now, it’s a matter of figuring out what the best option may be and how much longer the whale will survive if they leave her alone.

The young female, known as A73, is supposed to be with her pod, a group that spends several seasons a year on the northern side of Vancouver Island. Instead, she is here in the Puget Sound alone, eating the wrong kind of fish, and frankly a little lonely since orcas are social animals.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is asking experts for their opinion on what’s best for the whale. Not all agree on a fast course of action.

Some orca experts are convinced her health is failing. They are trying to figure out what they can and should do to save her, weighing options that range from putting her in an aquarium or possibly guiding her back to Canadian waters in an attempt to re-introduce her to her old pod.

“Given her present condition and that she doesn’t have a proper supply of food, she will eventually starve to death,” said Brian Gorman, National Marine Fisheries Services.

The young orca was separated from its pod in Puget Sound. But not all the experts think the situation is so dire.

“I don’t see her as declining. I actually see her as actually somewhat improved from when she first arrived in our area. And I think she’d kind of maintaining right now,” said Ann Stateler, marine naturalist.

Still, Stateler agrees that the whale needs medical attention. Experts say one option is temporarily penning the whale with enough food and care for her to regain health and be re-introduced to her pod.

Some believe the whale is almost as healthy now as she was when they first found her in mid-January. Those experts say it’s best to hold off on meddling with Mother Nature as long as possible.

“My opinion, is as long as she is, still seems to be healthy and has some high energy levels then we should leave her alone until it appears that she actually is beginning to decline in her health,” said another marine biologists.

But Fred Felleman of the Orca Conservancy says before anything happens, he’d like to see a clear plan of action and funding to give the whale what she needs to survive.

“If you care about this whale, you got to leave it alone. And if we’re going to let the potential for it to be re-established with its natal pod, we have to have as little interaction with it as possible,” said Felleman.

That’s another thing that all of the experts can agree upon. They say for this whale to regain her health, she needs some amount of privacy. They’re worried about her exposure to the public as well.

For more coverage on the debate over the young orca, tune into NorthWest EXTRA at 7 and 10 p.m. PT Friday evening on NWCN.

KING 5’s Deborah Feldman and Jeff Gradney contributed to this report.


Friday, March 1, 2002

Orphaned Orca May be Caught and Sent to Theme Park


Federal fisheries officials are considering capturing a young, orphaned killer whale that has been swimming around Vashon Island for several weeks – possibly for permanent residence at a theme park.

The National Marine Fisheries Service yesterday asked conservationists what should be done about the female orca, which split off from a group of other killer whales that spends much of its time around the northern end of Vancouver Island in Canada.

The orca, born in August 2000 and identified by NMFS as A-73, isn’t eating properly and is showing signs of malnutrition.

A panel of scientists that convened last Friday determined that “the likelihood for long-term survival is low, and that the animal is unlikely to reunite with its pod or join a surrogate (mother),” NMFS reported.

Brian Gorman, an NMFS spokesman, said authorities are concerned.

“We have to intervene at some kind of level and do it sooner rather than later,” Gorman said. “We don’t have the luxury of time.”

NMFS is considering removing the orca to a facility such as Sea World or Six Flags in California, or moving it to a pen of some kind in the Puget Sound area, where it could be fed and monitored by veterinarians until healthy.

Scientists have grave doubts about the rehabilitation-and-release option.

“There is no historic, behavioral or genetic evidence for resident calves leaving a pod and then rejoining it later, or for rejoining a new pod and thriving,” the scientists advised NMFS.

The orca tried to reunite with its pod after its mother died, but was rejected. Its closest living relative appears to be a grandmother.

Fred Felleman, an activist with Orca Conservancy, said he’s concerned that the orca seems to have become accustomed to people.

He said authorities should keep it isolated from people in a net pen somewhere in Puget Sound until it recovers.

His group is asking the public to keep away from the whale.

“The animal is unfortunately somewhat socially starved, and interacting with humans would be the kiss of death for it,” Felleman said.

“We really want to discourage people in their efforts to be benevolent to it. Once it becomes habituated to people, it will be looking for handouts rather than making a living on its own.”



Young Orca May Possibly be Rehabed at OCA

KGW Television (NBC Portland)

NEWPORT, Ore – The Oregon Coast Aquarium-former rehabilitation facility of Keiko the movie star killer whale-has responded to federal fisheries officials for the possible placement and rehabilitation of a juvenile female orca (approximately 11 feet long) currently in the Puget Sound near Vashon Island, Washington. Whale-rescue and whale research groups in the area have been tracking the lone orca’s health and location the past six weeks, where the juvenile orca has been staying in shallow water and not making any attempt to swim out to the open sea.

“It’s very similar to the situation with Keiko, where we were able to respond to a request for him to come to our facility,” Aquarium President Phyllis Bell explained. “The Oregon Coast Aquarium has formally responded to the National Marine Fisheries Service and we’re waiting their decision on our offer to help with the whale’s care and rehabilitation.”

Other killer whales have been stranded in the Puget Sound since January 1. A male orca was successfully moved last month from shallow water in Dungeness Bay, north of Sequim, Washington, by volunteers who guided it back to deeper waters of the open Pacific Ocean. An older female was discovered dead on a sandbar near Jamestown, Washington in early January. Both orcas were identified as transient killer whales, possibly from California.

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is well-known and respected for its marine animal rehabilitation program. Keiko, the killer whale star of the movie “Free Willy”, was at the Oregon Coast Aquarium from January, 1996 through September, 1998. He was 1,000 pounds underweight upon his arrival due to poor diet and living in water too warm for him, with skin lesions similar to warts caused by papillomavirus. Keiko also suffered from poor muscle tone and stamina, and could only hold his breath for three minutes. His dorsal fin was bent and he had badly worn teeth from chewing on his concrete exhibit when he was at a Mexico City theme park.

By the time Keiko departed the Aquarium for an open sea pen in Iceland, he had gained over 1,000 pounds, grown eight inches in length and his skin lesions were gone. His muscle tone and stamina were radically improved so that he could hold his breath under water for over 17 minutes and the improved condition of his back muscles raised his dorsal fin a foot off his back.

The Aquarium has rehabilitated and released (when possible) injured seabirds, endangered fur seals, harbor seal pups, tropical sea turtles and other marine animals as facilities allow. Six sea lions, five harbor seals and three sea otters currently live at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Five of the sea lions and two harbor seals were captive born; one sea lion and three harbor seals were rescued and rehabilitated after beach strandings but were not considered releasable. All three Aquarium sea otters were stranded and recovered, rehabilitated and deemed nonreleasable.

For additional information about the Oregon Coast Aquarium, surf http://www.aquarium.org or call 541-867-FISH.

In 1996 Keiko was flown aboard a United Parcel Service plane to a new rehabilitation facility in Newport, Oregon. There he was returned to health and trained in the skills necessary to be a wild whale. In late 1998, Keiko was flown in a U.S. Air Force jet to a sea-pen in Iceland. In the summer of 2002, Keiko joined the company of wild whales and swam nearly 1000 miles to the Norwegian coast. Since then, Keiko has been cared for in a fjord where he was free to come and go by his own choice.

Keiko inspired millions of children to get involved in following his amazing odyssey and helping other whales. Keiko’s journey also inspired a massive educational effort around the world and formed the basis for several scientific studies. Thousands of people traveled to Norway in the past year to see Keiko, continuing his legacy as the most famous whale in the world.

Phillips stated: “Keiko was a trailblazer, the first orca whale ever rescued from captivity. There’s still a lot of work to be done to see that captive whales are given a chance to be free. Keiko showed what is possible if these animals are just given the chance.”

Irwin stated: “From the beginning, we did the right thing for Keiko and we intend to continue the fight to keep whales free.”



Debate Continues Over Fate of Orphaned Orca

Reported by Glenn Farley, KING 5

The tug-of-war continued Monday as various groups prepared to meet over what to do about an orphaned orca cruising between West Seattle and Vashon Island, Wash.

The question on many people’s mind is whether the whale could this whale end up in a zoo.

The government has said that is not their first choice, but they also aren’t very optimistic that the whale

can successfully be re-introduced to her home pod in Canada.

More video of the orphaned whale caught fishing adds to the debate about whether the whale is really in trouble. Monday morning, a government boat headed out to try and find the young Orphaned Orca and representatives from some West Coast aquariums were expected to be on board.

She’s known as A-73 or “Springer” And late Monday, KING 5 News’ helicopter Sky King captured more video of her going after big salmon. Over the weekend, whale researcher Mark Sears captured evidence of the whale feeding.

“She’s got it, I saw her with a fish,” Sears can be heard saying on video he shot of the whale.

Experts say both are good signs that the whale is eating. But other scientists who’ve seen the whale in prior weeks say she is not eating enough and fear she will ultimately starve to death. And the National Marine Fisheries Service does not want to see that happen.

“I mean, we enforce something called the Marine Mammal Protection Act, not the Marine Mammal Abandonment act,” said National Marine Fisheries Service spokesman Brian Gorman.

Screen shot 2013-03-16 at 4.43.26 PMBut what should be done to save this whale?

Some environmental groups, including the Orca Conservancy, think the whale could be ferried in a moving net pen back to her home in Canadian Waters to at least try and re-introduce her to her home pod.

What the group does not want to see is a return to capturing whales for aquarium displays, as it was done in the 1960s and 70s.

“None of us want to open that door again, that’s a very, very sensitive issue,” said Michael Harris, President of Orca Conservancy.

On Monday, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, which played temporary Host to Keiko, says it’s willing to house and rehabilitate A-73 if asked.

A public forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday night at to discuss the fate of the whale. The forum will be at The Hall at Fauntleroy, 9131 California SW, West Seattle.


Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 12.15.40 PM
In 1965, Namu, a large orca, was brought down from Canada in a mobile sea pen, towed over about two weeks to Seattle. (Courtesy: Orca Conservancy)
March 6, 2002

Group May Try to Move Baby Whale

Reported by Glenn Farley, KING 5 News

Everyone has an opinion on what to do about the baby whale. Some say do nothing, but that does not seem to be an option for this federal protected mammal. And the choices about what to do are tough, and there are no guarantees.

Now, an organization called Orca Conservancy is proposing a reverse trip. Taking Springer, the orphaned and lost member of Canada’s A-Pod, back to her home waters in a similar fashion.

“To do everything we can to minimize the stress on this animal, to minimize the contact, to do every option we can to repatriate this animal into its home waters and keep it from being lifted out of the water and put into a tank,” says Michael Harris of the Orca Conservancy.

Orca Conservancy says it’s working with Earth Island Institute, a San Francisco environmental organization, to put together a well thought out plan to get the young whale back home, providing her live fish and introducing her back to her home pod, which may or may not accept her.

“There’s a chance this whale wouldn’t be accepted back into the pod. But it’s probably a likelihood that she would,” says Harris.

The national Marine Fisheries service says it will not allow the nature to take its course, and will not simply let the animal starve to death hundreds of miles from home.

But the agency is considering a wide variety of options, including putting the animal into an aquarium so she can be nursed back to health and the agency says a decision on what to do is days, not weeks away.

“Certainly, we’re not foreclosing any options. A sea pen of some kind might be some sort of an option or an interim step. One of the problems we have with the first step, is that we have to get this animal assessed as far as her health is concerned and back into good shape,” says Brian Gorman of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

NMFS says this is a lot more complicated that bringing a lost dog home.

But there are fears that even if the whale is taken into temporary captivity, that the whale will ultimately end up as a permanent part of an aquarium exhibit.

Namu was brought down from Canada in a mobile sea pen in 1965.



Conservationists Would Try to Reunite it With Pod, Avoid a ‘Concrete Box’

By Robert McClure, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Conservation groups — including one that freed the orca popularized in the movie “Free Willy” — yesterday made a bid to take over care of the sickly, orphaned orca calf that has wandered into central Puget Sound.

The conservationists said the female orca should be reunited with its family in Canada. But they’re afraid that the National Marine Fisheries Service, because of budget restrictions, will be too willing to turn to an aquarium or theme park to take care of the animal.


springer.25tl“We’re concerned it would be a one-way trip,” said David Phillips (left), executive director of the San Francisco-based Earth Island Institute. “Once the whale gets into captivity, there are a number of things that will keep it from going back out. It gets socialized, gets used to people.

“You get the conflict of interest associated with facilities where this (orca) becomes a huge financial draw. The issue of when it should come back and whether it should go back becomes more than a scientific discussion.”

The Earth Island Institute teamed up with Orca Conservancy, after the NMFS last week asked environmental groups what they thought should be done. Yesterday they offered a seven-point plan for how to care for the whale. It entails building a floating pen in Puget Sound where the animal could be observed and cared for by veterinarians. Later, the pen would be towed to Canadian waters, with the orca’s stress levels carefully monitored.

It would be kept in a pen in Canadian waters until its family returns from its winter migration in June or July, then set free in hopes that its family would readopt it. It’s an untried option in dealing with such a situation, Phillips acknowledged. But he said his organization surmounted even tougher obstacles to transport the orca known as Keiko and featured in “Free Willy” back to its native Iceland.

“It’s an easier course of action for the agency (NMFS) to go with a concrete box,” Phillips said. “Its cleaner, the marine parks have the money; they’re ready to go. … No muss, no fuss.”

The activists said they were assessing how they can raise money to care for the whale, although they stopped short of calling for public donations. NMFS spokesman Brian Gorman, who last week solicited advice from the environmental groups, said he would not immediately comment “on an over-the-transom proposal,” although he would relay the bid to higher-ups in the agency.

Four facilities already had made bids to care for the orca: Sea World, in San Diego; Six Flags Marine World in Vallejo, Calif.; the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport; and the Vancouver Aquarium in Canada.

“They’re all pretty serious and they all have resources that could do the job to one degree or another,” Gorman said. “If we end up choosing one of them, I assume it would be for rehab rather than permanent (residence).”

Gorman said the agency’s budget for rescuing stranded marine mammals is half-spent, and now stands at $6,000. He said cost is not a factor NMFS officials have considered so far but acknowledged, “as we get closer to making a decision, we’re going to have to consider whether we can afford to do A versus B.”

Orca families, known as “pods,” have been known in the past to reject members and not take them back. The 18-month-old whale in question, identified as A73, is related to other members of its pod, but her mother and siblings died. Her grandmother is her closest living relative. Scientists advising NMFS have been quite skeptical about the chances that this orca would be accepted back into its pod. She also hung around for some time with another pod, but was rejected by it, too.

A scientific panel assembled by NMFS has said it appears the orca will need human intervention. It appears to be very hungry, and has a skin condition indicative of poor health. However, orca enthusiasts who have visited the animal, which has been swimming around between West Seattle and Vashon Island, say there is no urgent need for human intervention.

“I didn’t see a withering animal,” said Fred Felleman, a board member of Orca Conservancy who studied the animals as a graduate student. “I would suggest she’s gaining more than she’s losing.



Second Baby Whale Isolated in Canadian Waters

3/7/2002 – Reported by Glenn Farley, KING 5 News

VASHON ISLAND, Wash. – A tremendous amount of attention is focused on “Springer,” the young orphaned whale swimming near Vashon island. But there’s another young whale considered even more critical to keeping local orca populations alive: L-98.

Luna or L-98 has inhabited the waters of Vancouver Island’s Nootka Sound since last summer. For some reason he’s been separated from the rest of the L pod, a group of whales usually found in U.S. waters. He’s north while his pod is south.

Meanwhile, Springer or A-73, a distressed calf of about the same size and age, is swimming in the waters between West Seattle and Vashon Island.

Scientists say this situation of two calves so far out of place at the same time is unprecedented, but they cannot find anything that connects the two. It’s just a very strange coincidence.

springer.26.lResource Links:
Orca Conservancy
Center for Whale Research

But everyone would like to see L-98 back home because the population of U.S. based killer whales is small and getting smaller. And the National Marine Fisheries Service is reviewing a petition to have the U.S. whales added to the endangered species list.

The local whale population had been climbing.

“But then just recently, maybe in the past five or six years, it’s declined again and we don’t know why,” said Brian Gorman, National Marine Fisheries Service. “It’s down to maybe 82 animals, not from a high of 96 or 97.”

The Orca Conservancy, a Seattle environmental group, is proposing to use a towed sea-pen, like the one used in the ‘60s, to bring L-98 back -if they are given permission to takes A-73 north to her home in Canadian waters.

“I’m tremendously optimistic based on a lot of new information that’s coming to light in the last few days,” said Kelley Balcomb, whale researcher with the Center for Whale Research and Vice President of Orca Conservancy.

And while L-98 is getting plenty to eat and appears healthy, there are big concerns.

“There is certainly less of a sense of urgency with L-98, compared to A-73,” said John Ford, Canadian Fisheries and Oceans. “But we are still not confident about his prospects for the long term. Again, these animals live in highly structured pods and do so for a reason.”

But L-98’s mother is still alive, improving his chances of successfully rejoining his pod, whereas A-73’s mother is dead.

The government cites pollution and declining salmon stocks as possible reasons for the decline in the U.S. orca population.


March 8, 2002

Bringing Springer Home

The Spokane Spokesman-Review

Two whale-protection groups — the local Orca Conservancy and the national Earth Island Institute – have proposed a plan to reunite an orphaned killer whale with her extended family in Canada.

The plan – involving a large sea pen towed by tugs to move the whale – has been submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service for consideration, said Michael Harris, president of Orca Conservancy.

Earth Island Institute played a key role in raising $7 million to reintroduce Keiko (“Free Willy”) to his home territory in Iceland.

Nobody knows why a 2-year-old orca swam so far south and remains in Central Puget Sound, where she has stayed since mid-January. The whale is from a pod that rarely, if ever, comes into Washington waters. Her mother is believed to be dead.

Harris said the primary benefit of the plan proposed Wednesday is that the calf would remain in the water while she is given medical attention. The whale would be placed in a floating sea pen, which could be towed by tugboat from Puget Sound to British Columbian waters. The animal could then be released when her pod comes near.

Until now, the only proposals that seemed to have sufficient funding involved capturing the whale and transporting her to one of four commercial aquariums in the region.

Citing time constraints, Brian Gorman, spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, could not say whether this latest sea-pen idea would be considered by his agency.

“We really don’t have a lot of time left,” Gorman said. “I suspect we’ll make a decision in days, not weeks.”


—— OC E-Mail

From: “Orcalab”

To: “Michael Harris”

Sent: Monday, March 11, 2002 10:14 AM

Subject: Re: CBC news story

Hi Michael,

Good job on CBC this morning! They ran a news clip from the interview in the news right after in which you said “Canadian” twice in one sentence… way to go!

cheers, & THANKS!

Paul & Helena

Friday, March 8, 2002

Help On Way for Orphaned Orca

By The Associated Press

Conservation groups and aquariums have offered to care for an orphaned killer whale that has been swimming for weeks in central Puget Sound.

“Nothing’s changed,” Brian Gorman, a National Marine Fisheries Service spokesman, said yesterday of the orca’s situation. “We’re closer to making some kind of an announcement, but we’re not there yet. My sense is we’ll probably be sure of what we’re going to do and how to intervene maybe early next week.

“We’re getting down to the wire.”

Some conservationists say the female orca should be reunited with her family, based near Vancouver Island. They are worried the fisheries service will determine the whale’s fate based on budget concerns, choosing to turn it over to an aquarium because that would be the most economical option.

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is ready to help the whale.


Aquarium President Phyllis Bell estimates it would cost $75,000 to transport the orca from Puget Sound to Newport, Ore., where the aquarium is, and an additional $148,000 for care, should she stay for a year. The aquarium would pay the bill.

“We’re getting commitments now from people willing to donate,” Bell said.

The young and malnourished orca would first have its condition assessed and treated in a 26,000-gallon medical holding tank at the aquarium. Then it would be released into a 850,000-gallon tank, the largest section of the “Passages of the Deep” exhibit.

“We’d move out the larger sharks,” Bell said. “The animal would have plenty of room to swim.”

The aquarium gained international fame for its rehabilitation work in behalf of Keiko, the whale star of the “Free Willy” movie. Keiko lived at the aquarium from January 1996 through September 1998.

Other options being considered by the fisheries service include taking the orca to the Vancouver Aquarium in British Columbia, Sea World in San Diego or the Six Flags park in Vallejo, Calif.

The Earth Island Institute, along with Orca Conservancy, offered a seven-point plan Wednesday for how to care for the whale.

It calls for building a floating pen in Puget Sound where the animal could be observed and cared for by veterinarians. The pen would later be towed to Canadian waters, where the whale would be reunited with its pod, or family, after the pod returns from its winter migration.

Keeping the orca in the water would put less stress on the animal and limit its contact with people, Orca Conservancy President Michael Harris said.

“Give us a chance to pool our resources,” he said. “We have the components necessary to keep the animal in the water and attempt to repatriate it.”

The whale was discovered Jan. 14. After a month passed, the fisheries service convened a scientific panel seeking advice on what to do. The panel of biologists, veterinarians and government scientists found that the 1ton orca’s condition was poor and deteriorating.
Screen shot 2013-03-16 at 10.58.59 PM


March 9, 2002

Readers Soapbox: Try Social Approach With Orphaned Orca

Screen shot 2013-03-16 at 11.22.51 PMHOWARD GARRETT, GUEST COLUMNIST

Since at least mid-January a female orphan orca calf has taken up residence in Puget Sound. Less than 2 years old and hundreds of miles away from home, this 11-foot-long baby killer whale has been identified by Canadian researchers as A73, aka “Springer,” from the Northern Resident orca community. Locally she’s called “Little Orphan Annie.” There are indications that her health may be failing.

Below is a proposal sent Tuesday to the National Marine Fisheries Service to generate support for an approach that involves empathy and companionship, rather than the suggested emergency room medical treatment plan.

There was a public meeting Monday to find a solution. The overall sentiment was that capture and transport to a tank are not acceptable options to the public, even if it means that without intervention she might expire right there in the ferry lane.

There is widespread skepticism that she would ever be released if sent to an aquarium. As I understand from NMFS, however, letting the calf die is also not an acceptable option, and the trend of the vets’ comments was toward captivity in a tank for rehab. So there is a stalemate.

Rather than relying on the medical model, look at a social model, and intervene accordingly. That would mean looking at her social problems, which is that she’s a lonely orphan, a member of the most highly social species known to science.

Her mother died in her first year, all her siblings have died, and she is now at least 400 miles from her family and unable to keep up with them without her mother or a surrogate to pull her along.

Orca pods have no choice but to move on constantly, because their prey tend to scatter in front of them. Somehow she wandered down to Puget Sound and found a productive fishing hole, and camped out. She’s starving for company, literally, with a worsening skin condition and, according to the veterinarians, an inadequate diet.

The vets say she has ketosis, diagnosed by an acetone smell to her breath, indicating she is burning more calories than she’s taking in. She could go downhill and develop terminal pneumonia at any time.

Jim McBain, Sea World head vet, said her persistent rubbing on driftwood is not to scratch her sloughing skin but because she misses the tactile company of her mother.

She has proven that she is able to catch and eat large salmon, but given her extreme stress factors she may have a depressed appetite, and in fact may simply be depressed. That would account for symptoms discussed at the public meeting. She wants company.

When Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research, was out with her on Jan 15, she came to him and biologist Mark Sears, and when Balcomb waved his arms, she obliged by rolling over. She spyhops often and appears alert, aware, and responsive, though sometimes lethargic.

There’s no possibility that she could rejoin her pod at least until summer, but rather than do nothing until then, or take her to an aquarium to be poked and probed, perhaps certain people could be given authorization from NMFS to keep her company without fear of arrest. They could go out every day, weather permitting, sometimes wearing drysuits, to get in the water with her. I expect she would devise all sorts of games to play with them, and would be thrilled to have the attention of some compassionate beings. Captive orcas tend to bond with certain trainers, and in fact trainers generally say it’s trust and attention, not food, that keeps them performing and healthy, to a point.

This would provide a way for NMFS to do something to help this unfortunate orphan, and would satisfy the public’s desire for minimal intervention. This option would leave open the possibility, providing she stays healthy and grows normally for another five months or so, to follow her human companions back up to Johnstone Strait next summer, where her pod typically shows up about four days a week in July and August.

By avoiding captivity there would be no disease or hand-feeding habituation problems to complicate reunification with her pod. The cost of the entire operation would be small, maybe a few thousand dollars a week, maybe much less.

The main hurdle in this proposal is to overcome objections that:


1) she would become too habituated to humans. Keiko was eager to explore the ocean and mingle with wild orcas even after 23 years of captivity. Unfortunately it appears he didn’t come into contact with his immediate family, as this little orca almost certainly would in B.C. waters.

2) the problem is medical rather than emotional or social. Veterinary advisers are probably more prestigious than social system interpreters, so the weight of professional opinion presented to NMFS is likely on the side of the medical model. The services of vets are still very valuable under the social model, but the primary effort would be to keep her attention and raise her spirits.

This may all sound too mushy and amateurish for many to accept, but a look at the natural history of the species and the lessons from captivity seem to indicate that the most effective, economical and politically acceptable way to take care of this lonely orca is the low-key social intervention option.

March 9, 2002


KING 5 News (NBC Seattle)




Screen shot 2013-03-16 at 11.22.59 PMTUG OF WAR OVER ORPHANED ORCA








Dr. David Bain, Orca Conservancy Advisory Board Member: I THINK HER FORAGING SKILLS ARE ALMOST UP TO PAR.










March 10, 2002

“Little Orcan Annie”

CNN and CNN International


Scientists are worried about a baby killer whale that’s on her own off the coast of Seattle. Lilian Kim has the story of the orphaned orca.


She’s just a baby. Two years old, 12 feet long and all alone. Somehow within the past couple of months, this orca whale became separated from her pod and can now be seen hanging out at a ferry dock near Seattle.

BOB JOHNSON, Washington State Ferry Employee:

Well. the other co-workers nickname it, “Orca Annie.”


Playful and active, the baby orca has attracted quite a following.

Ferry Passengers looking at Springer:



But experts are worried that she may not be in the best of health or getting enough to eat.

BRIAN GORMAN, National Marine Fisheries Service:

She’s got some kind of a skin disorder that suggests she’s in stress, so we’re guarded about her, I guess you’d say, if you were a veterinarian.


The National Marine Fisheries Service is trying to figure out how it can help.Screen shot 2013-03-17 at 11.49.49 AM

LILIAN KIM O/C, On Boat With Springer, Off Vashon Island, Washington:

A decision on what to do with the orphaned orca needs to be made in the next few weeks, before salmon runs slow down and her food supply starts to dwindle. v/o Some suggest leaving the calf alone, but more likely, the whale would be rehabilitated, possibly at an aquarium.

Another option put forth by experts is to tow the baby home to Canadian waters, in hopes of reuniting her with her pod – a plan that would minimize human contact.

MICHAEL HARRIS, Orca Conservancy:

We don’t want this animal to begin to get accustomed to human contact, or else it’s going to make it a very bad candidate for getting it back into the wild population.


There is no simple solution. But experts agree that the common is to find a plan that’s in the best interests of the baby orca. Lilian Kim, CNN, Vashon Island, Washington.


Screen shot 2013-03-17 at 12.01.36 PMMarch 13, 2002

A Whale Of A Dilemma

By Kevin Reece, KOMO 4 News

SEATTLE – The picture shown here is one of the latest underwater images of A73, the female orca calf Canadian researchers have named “Springer.”

Alone now off Vashon Island for several months, she’s the focus of a political battle between researchers who say leave her alone and government officials who say capturing her may be necessary to save her life.

Now, Fred Felleman with the Orca Conservancy says the latest pictures show a whale that is doing just fine. Felleman says the still images, taken from video shot on March 7, indicate to him that capture for an aquarium shouldn’t even be considered right now.

“We think it’s absolutely essential that before any heroic activities are taken that we need to have at least a week’s worth of good baseline data,” said Felleman.

And that’s exactly what will happen. Researchers tell KOMO 4 News they have agreed with National Marine Fisheries to monitor the whale together over the next two weeks. The research may include both observation and medical tests. Researchers say that only then will the decision be made either to intervene or let A73 and mother nature chart their own course. Researchers will begin this latest round of observations as early as possible.

Screen shot 2013-03-17 at 12.02.11 PM“That doesn’t mean she’s in the right place,” said Felleman. “She’s a B.C. whale, she’s in U.S. waters, and I don’t think she’s got a visa,” he joked.

What he means is that even if the whale is determined to be healthy an effort may still be made to return the whale to its pod in Canadian waters.

Orca Conservancy’s Fred Felleman on ABC World News Tonight.

Dramatic New Rescue Plans for Whale

By Tracy Vedder, KOMO 4 News

PUGET SOUND – There are dramatic new plans to rescue an orphaned orca in Puget Sound. It would keep the orca out of aquarium tanks and re-unite her with her family pod in Canada.

One of the problems is that no one really knows how well or how poorly the orca is doing. So beginning Thursday, orca experts will be on the water near Vashon Island where the killer whale hangs out. They’ll be watching her from dawn to dusk, keeping track of her health.

Nicknamed Springer, the orca designated as A-73 has been stuck in Puget Sound nearly two months.

Orphaned and unable to keep up with her orca family, experts agree she is not getting enough to eat and belongs back in Canada. “Whether this is some kind of terrible danger or whether it’s just a little indication of a problem, we don’t know for sure,” says National Marine Fisheries spokesman Brian Gorman. “But we certainly know that her diet is insufficient.”

Once scientists have a better idea of Springer’s health, they’ll look at a long-term solution.

A ground-breaking coalition of conservation groups and the Vancouver Aquarium has come up with two options.

The first would take a lesson from Namu, the first killer whale captured back in 1965. A seapen, pulled by a tugboat, could move Springer back to Canadian waters. The advantage is it keeps human handling to a minimum. The disadvantage is at two knots an hour, it would take several days.


The other option comes with the help of the Canadian Coast Guard. They’ve offered the use of a hovercraft to take the orca home. The advantage is a fast, three-hour trip. The disadvantage is the orca would have to be captured and carried out of the water.

Either way, the coalition including Orca Conservancy, Earth Island Institute and the Vancouver Aquarium can act quickly. “We can gear up in a day or two to actually get the animal back up to B.C. where it ultimately belongs,” says Fred Felleman with Orca Conservancy.

Springer has spent a lot of time off the north end of Vashon Island. The killer whale’s pod will return around June to Canadian waters.

Whether the net pen or the hovercraft is used for transport it would likely take the most protected route, hugging the coastline, to get Springer back to the waters of her birth.

The National Marine Fisheries hasn’t decided what to do yet, but these coalition proposals seem to be at the top of their list. “Our goal is to reunite it with it’s pod,” says NMFS spokesman Gorman, “and the best way to do that is to put her in a net pen, maybe treat her and then transport her to Vancouver Island.”

The dawn to dusk monitoring begins Thursday and will continue for up to a week until NMFS makes a final determination on the killer whale’s future.

Orca Conservancy’s Fred Felleman and Michael Harris, in Ballard, WA.
Screen shot 2013-03-17 at 12.21.50 PM3/13/2002

Group Offers to Move Orphaned Orca Back to Her Home Waters

Reported by Glenn Farley, KING 5 News

A hovercraft is the latest option to move orphaned whale A-73 back to her home waters off Vancouver Island.

The Canadian Coast Guard vessel, which rides on a cushion of air, was used two years ago to pull a dead orca, J-18, to the beach, where the carcass could be examined by scientists looking for a cause of death.

One other alternative on the table, use a towed sea-pen to move the young whale. While the sea pen would not involve taking the whale out of the water like it would involving the hovercraft, the trip would take days rather than just a few hours.

“A slower trip at this time of year would have vagaries of weather to potentially encumber the transit,” says Fred Felleman of the Orca Conservancy.

But before the whale goes anywhere, scientists and veterinarians need to learn more about her condition.

As soon as the weather clears, the National Marine Fisheries Service says it will begin frequent medical checks on the little whale known as Springer.

“The level of per precarious condition is not well defined. Whales don’t give you a lot of means of analysis,” says Felleman.

One of the observations that have prompted concern among veterinarians is the smell of ketone – much like alcohol – on the whale’s breath. That could mean she is beginning to digest her own blubber.

Capturing and measuring the chemical composition of the orca’s respiratory gases could give scientists a better idea of the extent to which the whale is malnourished, NMFS spokesman Brian Gorman said Wednesday.

The private plan is coming together, but it is still up to the federal government to decide what should be done with A-73.

The Vancouver Aquarium has offered to temporarily house the whale in a stationary sea-pen to nurse her back to health, before a release back into the wild.


About orcaconservancy

Orca Conservancy is an all-volunteer, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization working on behalf of orcinus orca, the killer whale, and protecting the wild places on which it depends. Successful Petitioner and Litigant in historic U.S. District Court case to list Southern Resident orcas as "Endangered" under the U.S. Endangered Species Act -- the first-ever federal protection for the population. Leader in the Springer Project, the first-ever successful translocation and reintroduction of a wild killer whale, a rescue that captured the attention of the world.
This entry was posted in miscellaneous. Bookmark the permalink.