Springer File Part Three

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Orca’s Fate Hinges on Rescue Try This Week

Help: If capture works, experts will nurse whale to health

Susan Gordon, The Tacoma News Tribune

The world’s first attempt to rescue a sick killer whale, restore her to health and return her to the wild begins Thursday morning in Puget Sound.

At stake is the future of A73, a 1,500-pound, 11-foot-long orca that hangs out along the Washington state ferry route between Vashon Island and West Seattle.

The whale, also known as “Springer” or “Boo,” has attracted international attention because of her multiple ailments and isolation from other whales in her pod, or family.

Since January, when onlookers first spotted A73, concern about her fate has mounted, prompting a joint U.S.-Canadian effort to save the orphan orca and return her to the Canadian waters where experts believe she was born about two years ago.

On Tuesday, Bob Lohn, Seattle-based regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency coordinating the rescue and relocation effort, and other experts outlined how they plan to accomplish the feat.

A coalition of whale advocacy groups has mounted a private, fund-raising effort to support the move, which Lohn estimated will cost more than $200,000.

“Restoration of a juvenile whale has never been done before. We don’t know whether it will work,” admitted the administrator, who nevertheless insisted that the whale needs expert help.

“There is no likelihood she can remain a successful wild whale if she remains where she is,” Lohn said. “Human hazards with the orca continue to grow.”

For example, on Tuesday morning, Lohn said he and other state ferry riders watched A73 rub up against the boat, using it as a scratching post to relieve itching from a skin disorder that causes her skin to peel.

“At the end of this, the goal is to have a whale that bonds to her pod” instead of people and boats, Lohn said.

The rescue effort begins Thursday morning when a joint U.S.-Canadian team of whale experts will try to capture A73, then temporarily quarantine her in a fisheries service lab near Manchester, Kitsap County.

“We just need to get our hands on her and do a thorough and complete medical examination. Hopefully, we’ll get a complete picture within three days,” said Janet Whaley, the agency’s top marine mammal veterinarian.

Medical testing – blood draws, skin scrapings and blow-hole cultures – will begin as soon as the whale is captured, Whaley said. Experts do not plan to sedate the whale, which will be hoisted into a donated landing craft for the trip to the lab.

“The goal is to keep her out of the water as little as possible,” said Jeff Foster, the whale expert upon whose expertise the capture depends. “The best thing to do is to keep her moist and keep her quiet.” To relieve the whale’s skin irritation, Foster said, team members will apply A&D ointment, the same medication many parents use to alleviate diaper rash.

During the quarantine of a minimum of two weeks, whale experts must make sure the whale does not harbor any communicable diseases that she might transfer to other whales in Canada.

Although the details of transport haven’t been worked out, the goal is to return A73 to Johnstone Strait on the north end of Vancouver Island, where members of her birth pod return each summer and celebrate what Lohn described as a “joyous reunion.”

“We want to place A73 within earshot of this event,” Lohn said, describing it as a noisy revel of hopping, fluke-waving whales.

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But before the move to Canada, Whaley and others will try to cure the whale’s problems. Besides the skin disorder, A73 suffers from internal parasites, which probably will respond to deworming medication.

The malady that most confounds experts is ketosis, which makes A73’s breath smell like paint thinner. It could be linked to starvation, a hereditary disease or diabetes, but without testing, veterinarians won’t know for sure.

To capture the whale, the fisheries service will rely on Foster, an Auburn man Lohn called the “world’s expert in drawing close to marine mammals and bringing them under control.”

Until last September, Foster worked with the orca Keiko, trying to coax the “Free Willy” star to return to the wild off the coast of Iceland, after being held captive for 20 years.

Foster said the team plans to bag A73 by looping a thick rope around her tail. Then divers will wrap the whale in a sling, which will be hoisted into a landing craft for the trip to a secure, temporary holding pen at the Manchester lab.

Cypress Island Inc., which farms Atlantic salmon in floating net pens, has donated the use of the landing craft, its 12-ton crane and tons of fish that A73 will consume during captivity.

“Everybody’s pretty excited about it,” said Cypress Island manager Rob Miller. “It’s a unique opportunity.”

SIDEBAR: Donations to pay for the orphan orca’s return to the wild are being collected by The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. Donations may be sent to Orphan Orca Fund, c/o Juanita Johns, Islanders Bank, P.O. Box 909, Friday Harbor, WA 98250.

 

6/11/2002

Orphaned Orca to be Moved Thursday

KING 5 News

SEATTLE – The orphaned killer whale that has taken up residence in the Puget Sound will be moved Thursday, according to whale researchers.

An advocate for the move said Monday that the procedure was risky, but the whale was at risk if she stayed in the area.

The young orca dubbed Springer was spotted in the area around Vashon Island, Wash., about five months ago. She apparently got separated from her pod, which is normally in Canadian waters off British Columbia.

Biologists had considered bringing the whale to the Oregon coast aquarium in Newport. Now, the plan is to capture the whale and then place her on a barge for a quick trip to a net pen in Kitsap County west of Seattle.

Brian Gorman, a spokesman with the National Marine Fisheries Service, says the young female is to stay in the pen 10 to 14 days for treatment of some health problems and for tests to make sure she doesn’t carry any serious health problems when scientists try to reunite her with her pod in Canada.

Researchers say lately Springer has taken much more of a shining to boats in Puget Sound, even playing and nudging a small pleasure craft. People on Washington State Ferries have been feeding her, and as the summer gets going there is even more concern about what could happen to the whale.

Orca Conservancy spokesman Fred Felleman told NWCN that researchers have told him they will slip what they call a soft loop around the whale’s tail fluke and then lift her onto a padded research platform before transporting her to the Navy facility at Manchester, Wash.

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“There is a chance that the stress or pressure or unforeseen events may result in the loss of life for this orca. Nonetheless, we are sufficiently convinced that where she is now is not a safe place for her in the long term and that there is no likelihood she could remain a successful, wild whale if she remains where she is,” said Bob Lohn, National Marine Fisheries Service.

In two weeks, Springer will be taken up to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, where her home pod is expected to arrive some time in early July.

How to help

Contributions to The Orphan Orca Fund will go directly to the project to reunite A73 with her pod. It wil be administered by The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, Washington. Donations can be sent to:

The Orphan Orca Fund, c/o Juanita Johns, Islanders Bank, PO Box 909, Friday Harbor, WA 98250.

6/12/02

Rescue of Baby Orca to Take Place Thursday

 BY ERIC SORENSEN, The Seattle Times 6/12/02

SEATTLE – (KRT) – It’s a delicate task, part art, part science, this moving of a minor leviathan from Puget Sound to Canada. At almost a ton, the orphaned orca is extremely strong. One wrong move and her tail is in your ear, or worse, her teeth are being used for more than chomping salmon.

“They can be a little nippy,” said Jeff Foster, who has swum with the likes of Keiko and a transient orca near Sequim, Wash., in January and finally was rescued.

Foster and federal marine officials outlined how they plan to round up the orphaned orca off Vashon Island in the first tangible step toward moving her back to her community of fellow killer whales east of Vancouver Island.

Wednesday, they did a “wet run,” approaching the 2-year-old female and even brushing her with the soft, 1 1/2-inch-thick rope they plan to use as a lasso. Starting Thursday, they will do the rescue for real–weather, tides and orca permitting.

They emphasized that the process is risky and encouraged would-be spectators to watch, if they must, from the Fauntleroy-Vashon ferry.

“They have good viewing and a very reasonable fare,” said Bob Lohn, regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is leading the stateside recovery effort.

More importantly, Lohn cautioned that the orca, named A73 for its pod and birth order, is becoming dangerously accustomed to boats and people just as the hour of her capture approaches.

“This is not only high risk for whales but high risk for people,” Lohn said.

“You’re dealing with an animal that’s roughly a ton in weight, about the weight of a small car, that’s in her native habitat, who is extremely strong, and thus we’ll only gain control of her if she chooses to come into that control. We need the help of the boating community to simply stay away and allow us to have the best chance to effect a good rescue.”

People such as Foster, the capture-team leader, are experienced but have no manual when it comes to rescuing orcas.

“We’re dealing with a wild animal,” said Foster, who was involved in the Puget Sound captures that were halted in 1976.

“There’s a lot of unknowns. So we have to be kind of free-flowing as we develop techniques that we’re going to use to restrain her.”

Two capture options are luring her into a salmon pen and raising the gate or trapping her in a salmon seine.

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 But the first and likely method of capture will be to approach the orca and manipulate her in such a way that she raises her tail fluke, letting someone throw the thick loop around her tail. Foster said she will probably try to throw off the line but then calm down after realizing that she can’t.

“We expect to see some splashing but it’s just her response. It should not be stressful for her. Maybe initially she’s going to be confused, but these guys adapt very, very readily, especially at her age,” Foster said.

After the loop, workers will put a belly strap around the whale, then bring up a stretcher custom fitted down to the two holes for her pectoral fins.

A 12-ton crane will hoist the orca onto the Elsie Em, a 65-foot landing craft owned by Cypress Island Inc., operator of several Puget Sound fish farms. While veterinarians gather blood, blowhole cultures and skin scrapes, workers will keep the orca moist and cool for the 30- to 45-minute cruise to a fisheries-service laboratory in Manchester, Wash. She will then go into a 40- by 40-foot pen, where she will be fed salmon donated by Cypress.

Foster said A73 will get between 60 and 80 pounds of food a day. That’s enough to help her gain weight but not so much that she stops eating; veterinarians will need to smuggle medications into the orca by slipping them into her food.

Veterinarians should have lab results for A73 in three days, some within hours, but she will be held in Manchester for at least two weeks while she is nursed back to health. She has a skin pox, worms and a possible metabolic problem, and the capture will be the first chance for her to get a proper examination, said David Huff, veterinarian for the Vancouver Aquarium Science Centre and a consultant to Janet Whaley, a fisheries-service veterinarian out from Silver Spring, Md., outside Washington, D.C.

If the orca appears up for the move and has no contagious diseases, the fisheries service will transport her to Johnstone Strait on the east coast of Vancouver Island, where her pod should return in July and begin a period of heavy vocalizing.

But Lohn acknowledged that the fisheries service is working so incrementally that it has yet to decide just how she would be transported to Canada and it does not have a clear idea of how much this effort will cost. Much of it is being done with volunteer expertise, in-kind donations and help from the public.

6/13/2002

ORPHAN ORCA FUND

Coalition Raising Money for Whale Rescue

Chris Dunagin, Bremerton Sun

SEATTLE (AP) — The pending rescue and relocation of Puget Sound’s orphaned orca has become a source of hope for improving the plight of the area’s marine ecosystem, a coalition of whale advocates said Wednesday.

“A73 is kind of the poster child in making sure we always have orcas out there,” said Sally Hodson, executive director of the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, during a news conference at Cove Park in West Seattle, near where the whale hangs out.

The museum is just one of seven conservation groups joining to form the Orphan Orca Fund and help the government pay for rescue of the killer whale, designated A73 because of her pod and birth order.

Donations will be deposited at Islanders Bank in Friday Harbor, said Orca Conservancy President Michael Harris.

Cost of the rescue, including medical treatment and reunion with her pod off Vancouver Island, is estimated at about $500,000, Hodson said. The group isn’t sure how much money it will need to raise.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency leading the rescue effort, is likely eligible for two $100,000 federal grants — one for capture and treatment of the orca, the other for transport and release.

The remaining funding will have to come from donations, Hodson said.

Already, the fund is receiving buckets, foam pads and medical supplies — all necessary for the whale’s transport.

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The groups, which also include the American Cetacean Society’s Puget Sound Chapter, Earth Island Institute and Friends for the San Juans, remain adamant that their goal is to have the whale returned to the wild.

No money collected through the fund will be used to place her in captivity, Harris said.

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Fisheries Service Hopes to Keep Gawkers at Bay While Capturing Orca

By ROBERT McCLURE
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

MANCHESTER – Authorities preparing to capture the orphaned baby orca in Puget Sound appealed to the public yesterday to keep its distance from the creature, saying she has become overly friendly toward humans in recent days.

Meanwhile, private conservation groups appealed to the public to contribute money, groceries and other goods to support the effort to rescue the orca and reunite her with her family in Canada.

The capture of the orca is planned for tomorrow morning, but it could be delayed until the afternoon or even until Friday, said officials of the National Marine Fisheries Service. In the meantime, they said, the best way to see the orca is to ride a ferry between West Seattle and Vashon Island.

“She seems to be rapidly losing her fear of humans,” said Bob Lohn, NMFS regional administrator, at his agency’s research facility here on the Kitsap Peninsula. “While that may be helpful in the short run (for the capture)… those traits need ultimately to be modified.”

If the orca becomes too habituated to humans, it likely would decrease chances she could be successfully reunited with her pod, officials said. Authorities will keep would-be sightseers at least 400 yards from the capture – far enough that little, if any, of the operation will be visible, they said.

“We want to have as little contact as possible with her,” said Jeff Foster, leader of the capture team. “Her pattern has really changed in the past few days. She’s really interacting with boats.”

In the 1970s, Foster participated in some of Washington’s last captures of orcas for display in aquariums and theme parks. He later served as director of operations for the group that sought to free Keiko, the captive killer whale that starred in the movie “Free Willy.”

“We believe we have some of the best and most competent people in the world” to do this job, Lohn said. “We think this whale will get the best possible medical care.”

The orca turned up in the waters between Vashon Island and West Seattle in mid-January. Scientists were able to trace her to her whale family, or pod, by studying her squeals, squeaks and other vocalizations.

She became separated from her pod after her mother died. But the pod returns each summer to the waters off northern Vancouver Island. NMFS and its Canadian counterpart, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, hope to reunite her with the pod when it returns next month.

But the orca, officially known as A73 and nicknamed “Springer,” is clearly in ill health. A blood test indicated she does not have a genetic defect that would doom her to an early death, but that result will be double-checked, said Janet Whaley, a NMFS veterinarian.

The whale, which is almost 2 years old, also has worms, a skin condition that causes itchiness, and perhaps other maladies, say orca experts who have observed her.

“We don’t know all the problems she is facing right now,” Whaley said.

Immediately after the capture, as the whale is taken by barge to a pen beside the NMFS research facility here, researchers plan to take samples of her skin and blood for further testing.

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 On the boat, water and ointment will keep the whale’s skin wet, and she will be iced down to prevent overheating.

The orca will stay in the 40- foot-by-40-foot net pen at Manchester for at least two weeks as veterinarians assess her health, then be moved to a larger net pen nearby. There, she will be given medicine and enough fresh salmon – donated by the Cypress Island Fish Farm – to put on some weight.

“She’s so young that I think she’s going to adapt pretty readily” to the pen, Foster said.

In July, NMFS hopes to transport the orca to a pen on northeastern Vancouver Island to await the return of her pod.

NMFS expects to get government grants worth $200,000 to help defray costs of the operation, but likely that will not be enough.

Seven conservation organizations – Orca Conservancy, People for Puget Sound, American Cetacean Society, Orca Alliance, Whale Museum, Friends of the San Juans and Earth Island Institute – plan an appeal to the public today for funds. Checks can be sent to Orphan Orca Fund, c/o Juanita Johns, Islanders Bank, P.O. Box 909, Friday Harbor, WA 98250.

In addition, the groups are talking with local businesses about what sort of aid they can provide. Those interested can call 206- 382-7007.

6/13/2002

Orca Rescue Attempt Begins at Noon

The Associated Press/NWCN.com/KING5.com

MANCHESTER, Wash. – A last-minute change in plans will attempt to make Puget Sound’s orphaned orca whale, Springer, swim into a floating net pen, while surrounded by a lot more commotion than she’s used to. The rescue had been scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, but has been postponed until noon.

Conditions will be very different from Wednesday’s successful trial run, largely because the net will be dropped below the water, instead of floating above the water as it was Wednesday.

The rescue could take several days depending on the weather and water conditions, as well as Springer’s health.

If all goes well, the government will take Springer to a temporary site on the Kitsap peninsula for treatment before efforts are made to reunite her with her family in Canada.

On Wednesday afternoon, whale researchers pushed a portable net pen to the north end of Vashon Island, where Springer has been residing. Researchers, petting and scratching her on her side, successfully coaxed her into the pen.

Because the nets were not in place yet, Springer swam in and then quickly swam out of the pen – a victorious moment for researchers.

It all came not a moment too soon, said Bob Lohn, National Marine Fisheries Service regional administrator.

“She seems to be rapidly losing her fear of humans,” Lohn said Tuesday. There have been numerous reports of her cozying up to ferries and smaller boats and rubbing against them, perhaps to ease the itching of her worsening skin ailment.

The young orca was orphaned last year and then became separated from her family group. Since mid-January, she has made a temporary home near the Vashon Island ferry dock just west of Seattle.

Killer whales are social animals who live and hunt cooperatively. But at 11 feet long and about 2,000 pounds – roughly the size of a small car – this young whale could capsize smaller vessels if she got too friendly.

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The plan is to keep her near this Kitsap Peninsula town in a 40-square-foot net pen at NMFS’s research station, where she can be easily tested and medicated. She may be moved to a larger pen here if her stay extends beyond a couple weeks.

On Tuesday, members of the capture team affixed aluminum rails to a killer-whale sling on loan from the Point Defiance Zoo – a fleece-lined, 6- by 12-foot cloth apparatus with two holes for the orca’s pectoral fins. The sling will be used to lift her out of the water and place her on the 65-foot crane barge Elsie M., owned by the Cypress Island fish farm of Bainbridge Island.

The barge was here Tuesday unloading live Atlantic salmon that will be fed to A73 — named for her birth order in Canada’s A-pod. A mechanical device will be used so she doesn’t associate humans with food.

When she has recovered from several apparently minor health problems, she’ll be moved to a netted-off cove in British Columbia waters near Johnstone Strait, east of Vancouver Island, where A-pod spends summers.

The strait is the narrowest point between the island and the British Columbia mainland.

When killer whales enter the strait, Lohn said, there’s a sense of “joyous reunion” as they squeak and call out, often leaping almost completely out of the water.

The goal is to release A73 there as they arrive, giving her “a chance to bond with them at the time they seem to be celebrating among themselves.”

Restoring a juvenile orca to her community has never been tried before, he noted.

Still, “we believe we have some of the best, most competent people in the world” lined up to help, Lohn said.

The capture team is headed by Jeff Foster of Auburn, a veteran of the so-far-unsuccessful effort to return long-captive adult killer whale Keiko, star of the movie “Free Willy,” to the wild near Iceland. Foster also has done catch-and-release tagging of orcas for the Norwegian government.

Foster said he’s optimistic about A73’s prospects.

“Balancing the risks, we feel this is the best chance we can offer her,” Lohn said.

The effort to restore A73 to her family is expected to cost at least $200,000, he said. Federal money is being sought, and whale activists planned to announce private fundraising plans Wednesday.

How A73 is caught will depend on her.

On Wednesday, the capture team decided against trying to loop a soft, nylon rope around her tail, opting instead to lure her into a floating netless pen by stroking her with sticks. It’s a sensation she seems to like, since she’s often seen rubbing against chunks of wood floating in the sound.

If that succeeded, they planned to repeat the drill Thursday with the net. Then, she would be towed to a nearby crane barge, where a specially fitted sling would be used to lift her out of the water and onto the barge for the 4-to 5-mile trip to Manchester.

Blood and skin samples would be taken on the barge if she’s not too stressed, and treatment could begin almost immediately, Foster said.

NMFS veterinarian Janet Whaley said a complete round of tests should be completed within days.

Boaters were told to stay 400 yards away from the capture attempt, Lohn said, adding the best view is likely from the Washington state ferries Seattle-Vashon run.

Springer often followed the Evergreen State ferry. Wednesday afternoon, the ferry hosted a sendoff party for the whale. Members of the Tlingit Dance Troupe performed a killer whale song on the Evergreen in honor of Springer’s departure. Ferry workers say Springer often followed their boat and sometimes nuzzled up against it while it was docked.

While juvenile orcas surviving on their own are thought to be rare, this year there are two of them – A73 in Puget Sound, and L-98, a male from one of the three southern resident pods that spend time around the San Juan Islands. He has been seen on the west side of Vancouver Island since November.

According to recent reports from Canada, L-98 is also starting to get dangerously friendly with boats.

Killer whales are found in all the world’s oceans. The Washington state population – under pressure from pollution and boat traffic – has dropped from 98 in 1995 to 78 today. The government is to decide this summer whether to list them as an endangered species.

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June 13, 2002

Crews Capture Orca

By KOMO Staff & Seattle P-I

PUGET SOUND – Divers on Thursday captured an orphaned female orca whose growing coziness with humans had raised fears she could injure herself or capsize a small boat.

The 2-year-old, 2,000-pound killer whale approached capture boats uncoaxed, and crew members acclimated her to their presence by scratching and petting her for at least half an hour.

Finally, one crew member looped a rope around her tail and she was guided by divers into a sling between two boats, then hoisted by crane onto a 65-foot barge. She appeared to offer no resistance

“It went very smoothly,” Lynne Barre, an observer and fisheries biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “We saw very little splashing. She seemed to be under control very quickly.” The whale, originally from a pod in Canada, has been hanging out by herself since January off the north end of this island southwest of Seattle in Puget Sound.

The barge crew had laid a thick foam pad on deck for the 11-foot-long orca and brought ice to keep her cool as temperatures neared 90 degrees, unusually hot for the Seattle area in June.

Because winds were high enough and the current strong enough to make use of a floating net pen difficult, capture team leader Jeff Foster said workers used a lasso to capture the killer whale by its tail.

That’s an option that some old-timers who captured whales in the 1970s, as well as some orca conservationists, described as potentially lethal for the whale and dangerous for the capture team.

But the afternoon capture attempt went smoothly.

Officials had said it was likely the orca would resist the capture and splash around a lot. And she did, but two men jumped into the water beside her and appeared to calm her.

“She’s never been restrained before. That’s her natural reaction,” Lohn said.

Authorities extended the zone closed to boat traffic around the northeastern corner of Vashon Island from 400 yards to 1,000 yards, saying the orca was made skittish during a practice run yesterday by the presence of spectator boats. The orca, known by its scientific name of A73 as well as its nickname, Springer, appeared in Puget Sound in mid-January.

Scientists used her vocal patterns to deduce that she came from a whale family, or pod, that spends its summers in the waters off northern Vancouver Island in Canada. She was somehow separated from the pod after her mother died.

NMFS hopes to reunite the orca with her pod, which includes her grandmother and cousins, late next month. First, though, she is to be nursed to better health. She currently suffers from a pesky skin irritation, parasites and perhaps other medical problems. Post-capture tests should paint a clearer picture of her overall condition.

“What we’re doing we’re confident is in the best interest of her long-term health,” said Bob Lohn, regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Once the whale is put into a small net pen in nearby Manchester, she will be monitored by scuba divers for 48 hours, then human contact will be minimized, officials said.

They want the whale to unlearn her growing tendency to bond with humans, so that the attempt at reuniting her with her pod is more likely to work.

“We want to keep this as natural as possible,” Foster said. “We want to give her every chance to succeed up north.”

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Thursday, June 13, 2002

Orphaned Orca Captured off Vashon Island

By Peggy Andersen
Associated Press

Divers captured a 1,200-pound orphaned orca in Puget Sound near Vashon Island today, beginning a weekslong effort to reunite the young whale with her family.

The lost killer whale, originally from a pod in Canada, has been alone since January off the north end of this island, southwest of Seattle. Her eagerness for company had convinced scientists that she could not safely remain in Puget Sound, where she could be injured by a propeller or inadvertently damage a small boat.

The 11-foot-long orca was guided by snorkelers and rescue boats into a sling and then hoisted by crane onto a 65-foot boat. A thick foam pad was placed on the boat’s deck for the whale and ice was on hand to keep her cool as temperatures neared 90 degrees. After a little splashing, she offered little resistance.

“It went very smoothly,” said Lynne Barre, an observer and fisheries biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We saw very little splashing. She seemed to be under control very quickly.”

The effort was overseen by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which planned to Screen shot 2013-04-27 at 2.18.03 PMtemporarily hold the orca in a 1,000-square-foot pen at its Kitsap Peninsula research station west of Seattle. The orca will be treated — she is known to have worms and an itchy skin condition — before being taken north for release near Canada’s Vancouver Island.

There, she was to be held in a netted-off cove until her family, known as A-pod, returns in late June or early July. The whale, estimated to be about two years old, apparently became separated from them after her mother died last year. The young whale’s plight has captured the imagination of residents in Puget Sound, where the orca has long been a cherished icon. Local newspapers and TV stations have showered her with front-page attention. NMFS Regional Administrator Bob Lohn said the reunion effort is expected to cost at least $200,000. Animal rights activists announced a fund-raising campaign yesterday, saying the rescue could cost up to $500,000.

Orcas, often called killer whales, are a species of dolphin. The number of whales in Washington state’s three resident pods has dropped from 98 in 1995 to 78 today. The government is to decide this summer whether to list the orcas as an endangered species.

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 June 13, 2002

NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw

“Whale of a Tale”

Tease #1

Tom Brokaw: Later, the big human effort to help a lost baby killer whale.

Tease #2

Tom Brokaw: Up next, a lost baby whale and hopes for an emotional rescue.

 Screen shot 2013-04-27 at 2.23.16 PMPackage:

Tom Brokaw: In the Pacific Northwest tonight, where the see and all the creatures in it are so much a part of every day life, a rescue story to remember. A stray who drifted down from the north was in danger of perishing if she was not treated reoriented before long. Who was she? Here’s NBC’s Roger O’Neil…

Roger O’Neil: This is one whale of a fish story. About a little lost whale with bad breath. A story about Springer. A life and death struggle of an orphan killer whale, stuck for six months in Puget Sound near Seattle, 300 miles from her home.

Screen shot 2013-04-27 at 2.23.22 PMMichael Harris, Orca Conservancy: She took a left turn where she should have taken a right turn and got lost.

Roger O’Neil: She is Canadian, abandoned by the family pod after her mother died.

Sound-Up, Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research: I’ve never seen this before (laughter)…

Roger O’Neil: A-73, as she’s formally known has delighted marine scientists.

Sound-Up, Ferry Captain: We are now arriving at Vashon Island.

Roger O’Neil: And thousands of commuter who take ferry between Seattle and Vashon Island. The 11 foot long whale has adopted a 300 ft long ferry boat as it’s surrogate mother.

Not only has the orca made this the most interesting commute in the country she’s changed the whole social fabric of the ferry boat passengers

Ferry Passenger: Suddenly your coffee’s interrupted by people pointing out the window and everybody rushing over to where you’re sitting.

Roger O’Neil: The orca likes to chase salmon almost as much as eat them. But scientists say in Puget Sound there is too much pollution boat traffic and people for a baby orca to survive.

Bob Lohn, National Marine Fisheries Service: There is no likely hood she could remain a successful wild whale if she remains where she is.

Roger O’Neil: A-73 is also sick. Her bad breath a problem with metabolism. She has worms and a worsening skin rash which quite frankly makes her itch. But she’s no dummy. Springer has figured out how to scratch those itches with logs, boats, and hands really feel good.

This afternoon Springer was hauled in by marine cowboys, lassoed on live TV. She’s on her way now to a floating marine hospital for treatment. In two weeks she’ll be returned to Johnstone Strait off Vancouver Island, Canada, and hopefully the orcas family will take her back.

Tomorrow the ferry ride without Springer will just be a ride to work.

Roger O’Neil, NBC News, Seattle.

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 78

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Old Friends, Tlingits Bid Farewell to Orphaned Orca

By LISA STIFFLER
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

ABOARD THE EVERGREEN STATE – Booming drums and undulating chants briefly drowned out the TV news copter hovering nearby.

Red-and-black cloaks bejeweled with abalone shell-buttons and geometric renderings of whales shielded from view the half-dozen boats that buzzed around the little orca – a rehearsal for today’s attempted capture.

Yesterday, more than a dozen members of Alaska’s Tlingit Tribe gathered on the deck of the Evergreen State – the ferry that plies the waters between West Seattle and Vashon Island and has become the killer whale’s favorite motorized companion. They wished “Springer” well and said their goodbyes.

“She comes up and sees us all the time,” said Floyd Fulmer, a ferry worker and a Tlingit who came up with the idea of honoring the whale with a song and dance.

“It’s the right thing to do.”

With the deck as their stage, the tribal dance group performed a song from the Tlingit’s Killer Whale Clan. Traditionally, it was chanted when canoeing among the orcas — an attempt to communicate with the marine mammals. It was also a calling card of sorts, announcing a visiting clan’s arrival to others.

Screen shot 2013-04-27 at 2.27.08 PMFour women spanning three generations were among the dancers during the afternoon ceremony.

Linda Green was joined by her two teenage daughters and 78-year-old mother. All wore black-suede hoods topped with a wooden dorsal fin. Across the backs of their handmade robes were images of arched, swimming orcas.

“We feel related (to the orca),” Green said.

Some performers wore deer-hoof ankle bracelets that tinkled as they pivoted and lunged through the dances. Soft white ermine pelts swung from headpieces worn by some. Others had hats of woven cedar.

Orcas are sacred to the tribe, one dancer, Jack Strong, said afterward. That’s because the Creator helped the Tlingits conjure a killer whale to rescue a captive Tlingit. He had been kidnapped by the sea lion people.

“Ever since then the killer whale has been friends to the man, and the man friends of the killer whale,” Strong said.

Screen shot 2013-04-27 at 2.27.18 PMTlingit Jack Strong sings a traditional song during the ceremony on the Evergreen State on yesterday’s Vashon Island run.

The Tlingit Tribe is from southeast Alaska and British Columbia. Performers yesterday were mostly Seattle-area residents; members of the Kuteeya Tlingit dance group.

The orphaned orca “is displaced, just like a lot of natives from Alaska are,” said Fred Fulmer, Floyd’s brother, referring to the orca’s separation from her family.

There were mixed emotions over the planned return of the whale to her pod in Canada.

“I hate to see her go, but I realize that she’s sick,” said Floyd Fulmer. As an engine room-maintenance worker, he would hear the orca chirping and squeaking when the engines were cut.

Many of the ferry workers have developed an affection for Springer, who hangs around the Vashon Island docks. Some disapprove of her capture and export to Canada. They watched as the tribe performed their sendoff.

“It almost made me cry,” said Kellie Shillington, who directs traffic on the Vashon dock. “It’s going to be so sad to see her go.”

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 75

 Friday, June 14, 2002

Capture of Orca Goes Smoothly

A Lasso, a Sling and a Barge Used to Move Orca to Pen

‘Everything Went as if the Animal Knew What to Do’

By ROBERT McCLURE
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

MANCHESTER, Kitsap County — After months of concern and indecision and preparation, it took just 15 seconds to lasso Puget Sound’s orphaned baby orca and get her calm enough to be placed in an underwater sling.

The flawless capture was led by orca expert Jeff Foster, who looped a soft rope around the whale’s tail before leaping into the waters off Vashon Island yesterday afternoon.

The 2-year-old female, nicknamed Springer, thrashed a few times and tried to dive, churning up white water. Other team members jumped in to help control the 1,240-pound, 11-foot-long creature.

“This is a very dangerous time,” Lynne Barre, a National Marine Fisheries Service biologist told reporters. “They need to be extremely careful right now, with the people in the water, and the boats and the whale.”

But a few seconds later, the white water smoothed to blue-green and the whale stopped struggling as Foster pulled his knees up under the whale’s head and held her head soothingly in his hands.

“Everything went as if the animal knew what to do,” said Jim McBain, a Sea World veterinarian who assisted the team. “She handled it well. She was very cooperative.”

Within 15 minutes, Springer was being lifted out of the water on the specially built sling. She became the first of her kind to be captured in Puget Sound in 26 years.

Just over an hour later, the adventure ended about five miles away. Removed from the 65-foot transport barge with a crane, the playful whale was turned loose in a net pen outside the federal agency’s research facility here on Kitsap Island, along the Sound’s western shore.

“Everything happened just as we hoped it would,” a sunburned, sweat-soaked Bob Lohn, NMFS regional administrator, said afterward. “We are just thrilled. The rescue phase is over and now the rehabilitation can begin.”

The dramatic capture sets the stage for the sickly whale to be nursed back to health for several weeks and returned to her whale family in Canada. But whether that joyous reunion will occur remains far from certain.

Brad Hanson, the fisheries service biologist who has had the most contact with Springer, attributed the successful capture early yesterday afternoon to efforts to get the whale comfortable around her handlers.

Several weeks ago, he and others began scratching the animal’s skin with a knobby, 3-foot piece of driftwood. This seemed to satisfy her need for social contact and to soothe itchy places on her skin created by a condition known as whalepox.

Later, Hanson, Foster and others taught the whale to slow down when they held their hands on her. All of that was in preparation for the capture. Teaching the whale “was kind of an evolutionary process,” Hanson said.

That bonding paid off yesterday. As soon as the team’s boats approached shortly after 1 p.m., the orca came alongside Hanson’s boat without being coaxed.

“They’ve got the stick in the water,” Barre reported a minute later, referring to the driftwood backscratcher.

Conservationists familiar with orca behavior watched the capture anxiously. The 15 seconds “felt like 15 years,” said Michael Harris, president of the Orca Conservancy.

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 76

“It was a very tense moment when they had to get the rope around her,” Harris said. “There were so many things that could have gone wrong, and nothing went wrong. It was like delivering a baby.”

Spectators gathered at the Vashon ferry dock, and some shed tears, knowing it would likely be the last time they saw the whale.

As the capture unfolded, passengers aboard a state ferry bound for West Seattle craned to catch a glimpse.

Sally Hough, 37, squinted into the distance as four boats closed in on the snared whale.

“Did they get her? Do they have her?” the California native asked. “I borrowed someone’s binoculars while I was waiting for the ferry, but, honestly, I couldn’t see much then either.”

“Why are they catching her?” asked Bruce Hearns, 42, looking through binoculars. The Seattle hairdresser had heard of Springer, but he had no idea that the rescue mission was under way. And he wasn’t entirely convinced she needed rescuing.

“If she’s healthy enough to splash around,” he said, “why not just leave her alone?”

When will Springer be sprung?

She will stay in her 40-by-40-by-15-foot pen here for two weeks. Then she may be moved to a somewhat larger pen nearby. If she receives a clean bill of health, she could be transported back to Canada for a midsummer reunion with her long-lost whale family, or pod.

But that chain of events is far from certain.

Canadian officials have said they will not allow the whale to be returned to their waters unless they are convinced A73 is free of communicable diseases. If they are not convinced, or if the whale’s health declines, the National Marine Fisheries Service would have to decide what to do. Such a situation is unprecedented, and Lohn refused to speculate on how it might be resolved.

“We’ll wait until we have information before making a decision,” he said. “We’re not looking for an animal in absolutely flawless health. We’re looking for an animal that has a reasonable chance of surviving,” and early indications are A73 can be nursed to that state of health.

Orca conservation organizations are picking up part of the tab for the rescue effort — federal grants are expected to cover just $200,000 of the cost, and the final tab is not yet known — and they have vowed to fight any move to place the orca in an aquarium. In fact, they will oppose anything but turning her loose with her kind.

The whale first appeared in the waters between West Seattle and Vashon Island in mid-January. Using recordings of her squeaks, squeals and other vocalizations, scientists traced her to a whale pod that returns each summer to the waters off Vancouver Island, B.C.

She became separated from the pod about the time her mother died, but the family group still includes her grandmothers and cousins. Though no young orcas have been known to rejoin their pods after leaving, it is unclear whether one has ever been separated from its pod under these circumstances.

“To me, this is a big question now — is she going to know she’s a killer whale and go with those animals?” said McBain, the vet.

McBain said much remains to be learned about the orca’s health. For instance, he said, she may still have some sort of metabolic disorder, something akin to anorexia. The first order of business is to get her eating again, he said.

Fisheries service officials hope to fatten her up with a diet of live salmon provided through a long tube, so she won’t get the idea that people equal food. And they want to see the results of medical tests, including those on her blood, urine and skin.

They also want to solve one of the biggest mysteries about the whale: Why does her breath have a paint thinner odor? This is a sign of ketosis, which can signify a serious underlying medical problem.

“It’s not like everybody can cheer,” McBain said. “It’s like running a hurdle race. We’re past this hurdle and now we’re on to another.”

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 77

VETERINARY REPORT

From Jim McBain, DVM – 6/15/2002

Situation: A73 was collected from the wild on 6/13/2002. Visual observation of the whale immediately prior to collection demonstrated that she was very aware of her surroundings, responsive to external stimuli and active. I personally observed nearly 15 minutes of feeding/hunting behavior the previous day while I was a passenger on the Fauntleroy to Southworth ferry.

The collection of the whale was relatively uneventful and resulted in no apparent physical trauma. A73 showed little distress during the collection and transport to the Manchester holding facility. During the transport, a blood sample was taken for health assessment approximately 45 minutes after the capture procedure. Blowhole swab samples and a urine sample were also collected during the transport to Manchester. Identical samples, consisting of serum, whole blood in EDTA, and whole blood in citrate, were sent to the Central Lab for Veterinarians in Langley, B.C., Canada and the SeaWorld Animal Care Laboratory in San Diego, California. A fecal sample had been sent to the SeaWorld laboratory at an earlier date. Both laboratories performed a similar array of hematology and chemistry tests on the morning of 6/13/2002. In addition, the blowhole culture swabs were sent to the SeaWorld San Diego laboratory for bacterial and fungal identification and sensitivity. Results from both laboratories were received on 6/14/2002.

Executive summary of A73 visual examination and laboratory test findings: The laboratory findings reveal a mild inflammatory condition. The elevated plasma fibrinogen, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and white cell count are all consistent with low-grade inflammation. The very low alkaline phosphatase level is most likely the result of persistent inadequate food intake, but inflammatory disease may also contribute to the very low levels. A73 has a generalized chronic dermatitis contributing to her unthrifty appearance. This condition may well be responsible for the indications of inflammatory disease seen in the laboratory test data. Dermatitis with this appearance is generally thought to be the result of poxvirus and is not uncommon in young wild killer whales. The virus is likely a common asymptomatic inhabitant of adult killer whale skin. The disease does not seem to be life threatening and generally has little if any effect other than the unsightly appearance. A73 is also infested with GI parasites based on the observation of microscopic nematode ova in her fecal sample and the occasional observation of adult nematodes in her stools. These parasites may in a small way also contribute to the inflammatory markers noted in her laboratory tests. The less than robust body condition of A73 is most likely the result of inadequate food intake, as previously stated. The skin condition and intestinal parasites are probably minor contributors to the apparent undernourished state.

It seems apparent that the most important challenge for the immediate future is to establish consistent adequate caloric intake. Treatment of the nematode infestation should be accomplished as soon as A73’s food consumption becomes dependable. A short, 1 week, course of antibiotic therapy is suggested to combat any bacterial infection associated with her skin lesions. Treatment of the parasites and possible bacterial opportunists should allow A73 to dedicate more of her bodily resources to growth and less to combating infection.

Conclusion: None of the health problems affecting A73 appear life threatening. Long-term rehabilitation should not be required nor is it desirable to prepare her for reintroduction. If the desired circumstances present themselves, her current health challenges should not be considered a reason to delay. However, during the time that A73 is waiting for reintroduction, every effort should be made to improve her health status.

Following is a bullet point synopsis of my conclusions from the clinical lab reports of the Central Lab for Veterinarians and the SeaWorld San Diego Animal Care Laboratory.

Ø Central Lab for Veterinarians

Ø Red cell parameters are within acceptable limits.

Ø No reticulocyte count done

Ø Platelet numbers are very high but the mean platelet volume is normal. I cannot attach any clinical significance to the elevated platelet number.

Ø Total white cell count is in the normal range

Ø Differential cell count is typical of a mild stress leukogram

Ø No ESR performed

Ø No fibrinogen performed

Ø Electrolyte values cannot be interpreted as they were run on citrate plasma.

Ø Glucose, BUN, creatinine, total bilirubin, total protein, albumin, calcium, phosphorus, and gamma GT were within normal limits.

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 78

Ø AST, and CPK were slightly elevated. Elevation of these enzymes can occur as a result of strenuous muscle activity probably associated with the collection procedure. It should be reiterated that these test values were only slightly out of the normal high range.

Ø Alkaline phosphatase is very low for a young killer whale. This is compatible with inflammatory disease and with chronic low food intake

Ø Cholesterol, triglycerides, ALT, LDH, and serum iron were not run

I recommend that the Central Lab for Veterinarians utilize serum for electrolyte analysis, and add serum iron, ALT, and LDH to their chemistry profiles. I also recommend that plasma fibrinogen determined by photo optical instrument be included in the Canadian test profiles. I also recommend that reticulocyte count be made a standard component of the hematology testing on A73. Cholesterol and triglyceride are less important but may prove valuable as corroborative tests on future health profiles.

h SeaWorld San Diego Animal Care Laboratory

Ø Red cell parameters are within acceptable limits.

Ø Reticulocyte count is within normal range. This test result is usually below normal when the animal is suffering chronic infection.

Ø Platelet numbers are very high but the mean platelet volume is normal. I cannot attach any clinical significance to the elevated platelet number.

Ø Total white cell count is slightly elevated which is likely associated with a mild inflammatory response.

Ø The relative differential count is within normal limits while the absolute differential count reveals an elevation of neutrophils. Increased production or release of neutrophils results from an inflammatory stimulus. The band cell count is “0” which indicates that there may be an increased production of neutrophils, but a minimal consumption. This could arise from the dermatitis which has afflicted this animal for some time and/or could be the result of low-grade stress associate with the collection and transport.

Ø The ESR is slightly elevated, typical of a low-grade inflammatory response which could be attributed to the dermatitis and/or the GI nematodes which we have identified in her stool samples.

Ø Fibrinogen is elevated. This is nearly always associated with an inflammatory response. This elevation may be the result of the dermatitis and/or the GI nematodes but could be associated with any inflammation.

Ø Glucose, BUN, creatinine, total bilirubin, cholesterol, triglyceride, total protein, albumin, calcium, phosphorus, gamma GT, and electrolyte values are within normal limits.

Ø LDH, AST, and CPK were slightly elevated. Elevation of these enzymes can occur as a result of strenuous muscle activity probably associated with the collection procedure. It should be reiterated that these test values were only slightly out of the normal high range. If these values remain elevated, LDH isoenzyme electrophoresis may help to clarify the origin of the elevation.

Ø Alkaline phosphatase is very low for a young killer whale. This is compatible with inflammatory disease and chronic low food intake.

Ø Serum iron is normal. This value will decline rapidly with bacterial infection.

Ø Serum globulin is slightly elevated and serum protein electrophoresis confirms that there is a mild polyclonal antibody response. This finding is typical of animals that are managing low-grade chronic infection.

Ø Fecal sample revealed the presence of Contracaecum sp. ova, a GI nematode. 

Jim McBain, DVM

6/15/2002

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 79

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Orca May Teach Us Vital Lessons

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER EDITORIAL BOARD

“There were so many things that could’ve gone wrong, and nothing went wrong.” – Orca Conservancy President Michael Harris.

The capture of A73, better known as Springer, went remarkably well. There was heated debate about the wisdom of the operation, but those on both sides seemed to agree that things could have gone much worse for humans and for orca.

If nothing else, the uneventful capture June 13 calmed the most emotional elements in that debate and turned everyone’s attention to the health and care of the orphaned orca.

But yet another lightweight argument has developed, this one over the propriety of spending the money necessary to pull off the operation – perhaps $500,000 or more – in the face of so many pressing human needs.

Why spend a half-million dollars nursing a single orca back to health when there are thousands of humans without health care? Why spend that much in hopes of reuniting Springer with her pod when there are plenty of torn human families in need of mending?

It’s a sure measure of the tight times that some are aroused to such either/or arguments. Some of the money for the orca project is federal, which would require some fantastic feat of budget alchemy to shift from a marine biology budget to social services. And, yes, the individuals and organizations moved to contribute money to the operation could dramatically alter their charitable orientation and send the money instead to human relief efforts. But the reality is that the money has been budgeted and donated for this purpose, and to date would seem well spent.

There are no guarantees of success.

Perhaps Springer will be rehabilitated, reunited with and accepted by her family pod and they will all swim off into the sunset together. But this story need not have a Hollywood ending to be worthwhile.

Orcas are our neighbors. They share with us a close-knit biosphere. They are migratory animals that live in saltwater but also breathe air. The orca likely is an indicator species. If that species’ health is at risk, maybe it means ours is, too.

If scientists and veterinarians can find out what’s wrong with Springer, maybe they can save her and return her to the wild. But even if they can’t, they may learn ways to prevent or lessen a problem for baby orcas in the future. They may uncover a more serious, universal health problem directly related to the environment orcas and humans share.

We know less than we should about the world beneath the waves at our doorstep and about the creatures that live there. Springer may be able to teach us more.

On the Net:
Orca Conservancy: http://www.orcaconservancy.org
The Whale Museum: http://www.whalemuseum.com
National Marine Fisheries Service: http://www.nwr.noaa.gov
Vancouver Aquarium: http://www.vanaqua.org

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 80

June 21, 2002

Springer Could Be Moved To Canada In 2 Weeks

By Tracy Vedder, KOMO 4 News

KITSAP COUNTY – Some encouraging news about Springer, the orphaned orca. She’s looking healthy enough her rescuers say she could be back in her native Canadian waters in as little as two weeks.

Springer is adapting well to life in her temporary pen.

That’s both good and bad.

Good because she’s beginning to eat well and acts alert. “She’s responsive, she’s bright, she’s alert, she’s sensitive to a lot of things in her environment,” says Dr. Pete Schroeder, a marine mammal veterinarian working with Springer.

Part of that is because of what’s in the pen with her — logs suspended on a rope, blocks of ice — they’re items handlers put in the pen to stave off boredom.

“Our task is to keep juggling these things,” says Dr. Schroeder, “so she keeps interested, keeps alert, keeps responding to them.”

But Springer needs to stay as wild as possible to increase her chances of a successful re-introduction to her Canadian killer whale family. So the blocks of ice and logs on a rope are red flags for some of the groups raising money to get Springer back home.

“When we saw a lowered log into the water as reinforcement for eating a fish,” says Michael Harris of the Orca Conservancy, “that gives some concern because we realize that the deprogramming process has to start right away.”

Springer’s handlers also put her back in the stretcher used during her capture to give the orca calf some de-worming medicine. They inserted a half-inch stomach tube down her throat and poured six liters of water in with the medicine.

Two hours later, Springer ate 10 fish – about 50 pounds of salmon. “So we surmise from that,” says Dr. Schroeder, “that the treatment didn’t create too much distress.”

But the good news is that Springer has a virtual clean bill of health – her skin condition is improving, and she has no genetic disorder. If the next test results come back clean, she’ll be on her way to Canada.

“Our intent is to move the animal as soon as we have a green light from Canada,” says National Marine Fisheries deputy administrator Joe Scordino. That could happen in two to three weeks.

To date, the NMFS estimates it’s spent nearly $50,000 “out of pocket” on Springer’s rescue. But adds that volunteers and donations of supplies add up to much more spent on the orphaned orca.

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 81

June 25, 2002 at 2:16 PM EST

Hoping Springer’s Call Is Music To Pod’s Ears

By Tracy Vedder, KOMO 4 News

HANSON ISLAND, BRITISH COLUMBIA – One killer whale is defying the odds.

Springer, the orphaned orca calf, is proving she is a survivor.

KOMO 4 News has obtained videotape of Springer as a newborn orca, showing her swimming with her mother in Johnstone Strait two years ago.

(Footage Courtesy of Orca Conservancy and OrcaLab.)

Springer’s rescuers hope to return her to those pristine waters.

“This little bay here would have a net stretched across it,” says Dr. Paul

Spong, from the aerial vantage point of Air 4.

He’s talking about a small inlet called Dongchong Bay on Hanson Island off the northern tip of Vancouver Island. The plan is to put Springer in a small pen inside the bay, to wait for her orca family to arrive next month and then let her loose.

“The hope of course is that she would join up with the other whales pretty quickly,” says Dr. Spong, “but I’m not personally expecting that necessarily to happen, it may take some time.”

Time for both Springer and her orca pod to bond.

One of the curious things about the Springer mystery was trying to figure out where she belonged.

‘It Just Triggered Something’

OrcaLab, a private research facility on Hanson Island, has been recording the sounds and the dialects of the northern resident orca community for decades. They were the ones that actually provided the piece of the puzzle to figure out just who she is.

“That’s a very distinctive call right there,” acoustics researcher Helena Symonds refers to a whale call displayed on a computer acoustics program. They are the sounds of Springer, recorded in Puget Sound last winter. When Symonds first heard the recorded calls, “It just triggered something.”

Symonds began sifting through the thousands of recorded orca sounds to find one bit of tape — a whale call recorded in 1988.

And Symonds knew right away. Played back to back, even an untrained ear can hear the similarity. It’s Springer and her mother, each recorded 14 years apart.

Like a fingerprint or DNA, in the orca world the sounds are definitive evidence of a connection, “because the acoustic traditions are passed on from the mother to the offspring,” adds Symonds.

In addition to solving the mystery of who she is, that acoustic tradition will also be key to Springer’s reunion. The hope is that she and her extended orca family will each recognize their common calls, and they will accept the orphaned orca back home.

Springer is eating eight to 10 fish a day and adapting well to her temporary pen off the Kitsap Peninsula. She could be moved to Canada in as little as two to three weeks.

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 82

Screen shot 2013-04-27 at 3.31.08 PM

June 25, 2002

Local Orcas Left Off Endangered Species List

By KOMO Staff & News Services

SEATTLE – The National Marine Fisheries Service will not list Puget Sound orcas for protection under the Endangered Species Act, despite years of decline and a chance the killer whales could vanish over the next century.

But the agency said it will take other steps to increase federal protection for the “southern resident” pods of killer whales, which summer in Puget Sound.

“We are taking the decline of these killer whales seriously and we will work to sustain and support this population,” said Bob Lohn, head of the fisheries service’s regional office.

By the end of last year, only 78 killer whales remained in the three pods – down from 98 in 1995, a 20 percent drop in six years. The population is believed to have peaked at around 120 whales in the early 1960s, when dozens were captured for marine aquariums across the country – a practice that stopped in the 1970s.

“They’re not quite dead enough yet for the National Marine Fisheries Service to act,” said Fred Felleman of the Orca Conservancy and Ocean Advocates, two of 10 groups that petitioned last year for the endangered-species listing.

An 11-member team of biologists reviewed the case and determined that the southern residents, while in danger of extinction, do not qualify as a geographically and genetically distinct subpopulation of orcas – one requirement for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

No one is sure exactly what is causing the decline, but Lohn said stress from pollution, parasites and vessel traffic including whale-watching boats are all possible factors, as well as declining salmon runs. While most killer whales feed on fish and seals, the southern residents – and their northern counterparts in Canada’s inland waters – feed on fish alone.

“The bottom line on causes is we don’t know the answer,” Lohn said.

The agency plans to begin the process of having the orcas designated as “depleted” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which would allow allow increased attention to the population, Lohn said.

“It allows more focused attention and certainly means we will write a conservancy plan, which is the equivalent of a recovery plan under an ESA listing,” NMFS spokesman Brian Gorman said. “And we will list in pretty clear terms what we think the problems with the population are, and the things that we think would lead to a solution.”

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 83

He said he did not know whether the agency had funds on hand for more focused killer-whale work. “I think it’s a little too early to tell.”

The agency will solicit public comment about other ways to help the population and, in conjunction with Canadian authorities, improve whale-watching guidelines, Lohn said. Brent Plater, attorney for the Berkeley, Calif.-based Center for Biological Diversity and the petition’s lead author, contended the southern residents are a distinct population and said the findings are inconsistent with determinations on other populations.

“Today’s decision is a new low in the annals of the fisheries service,” Plater said. “They’ve completely abdicated their responsibilities to protect this population.”

Lohn said he took the advice of some of the world’s top scientists, and “I’ll stand by that.” The whales’ status will be reviewed again in four years, he said.

“If they wait another four years it is just to suggest they think the status quo is acceptable,” Felleman said. “To wait four more years is a recipe for disaster.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., issued a statement saying NMFS “should account for its decision by providing all available information to the public and local experts in order to allow a thoughtful examination of the merits.” And she noted that the “depleted” designation “allows us to take advantage of additional research and recovery resources.”

“The call to action has been sounded and our regional leaders must act now to preserve this icon of our Northwest waters,” she said.

Tuesday’s decision came in response to a petition brought by several conservation groups. They argued that the Marine Mammal Protection Act only prevents direct harming of orcas, while an endangered-species listing would also protect their environment.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Orcas Denied Endangered Status

Agency gives them less extensive protection

By LISA STIFFLER AND ROBERT McCLURE
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTERS

Puget Sound’s orcas could be extinct within the next century but do not qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act, officials with the National Marine Fisheries Service announced yesterday.

Instead, the agency is seeking protection for the killer whales under the less powerful Marine Mammal Protection Act. Since 1996 the population has declined almost 20 percent, from 97 to 79 orcas.

“The Marine Mammal Protection Act appears adequate for the moment,” said Bob Lohn, regional administrator of the agency. He said the agency will order more research into the cause of the whales’ decline and take a close look at the effect of boats, including whale watchers and shipping vessels.

But environmental groups said without the protection of the Endangered Species Act, the outlook is bleak for the orcas that return each summer to Puget Sound and nearby waters.

While the Marine Mammal Protection Act governs the harassment, capture or killing of marine mammals, the Endangered Species Act would have provided much stronger protections. For example, it would have given strong ammunition to environmentalists challenging government-sanctioned dumping of pollutants, and required the government to set forth a detailed plan for rebuilding the orca population.

The decision announced yesterday is “a death knell for the population,” said Brent Plater, a Berkeley, Calif., lawyer with the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity. “We know that the threats facing the (orcas) cannot be addressed by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.”

Lohn said the federal fisheries agency will consider the stronger protection measures in four years.

But Plater called that promise “absurd,” noting that the number of killer whales would drop another 15 percent by then if current trends continue.

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 84

Orca advocates and scientists also have been alarmed by a recent spate of deaths of female orcas in their prime reproductive years. Plater said his organization will likely challenge the decision in federal court.

The orcas in question are known as the “southern resident” orcas. They return from the Pacific Ocean each summer, spending much of their time around the San Juan Islands, Puget Sound and southern Vancouver Island. They speak to each other in a unique set of vocalizations.

Another group of orcas, the so-called “northern resident” population, inhabits the northern half of Vancouver Island and extends up the coast of British Columbia. They have received protection under Canada’s equivalent of the Endangered Species Act.

But an 11-member science team reviewing the southern resident whales’ status could not agree on whether the orcas were a “distinct population segment,” as required by the law, according to Lohn.

To meet that standard, the orcas must live in an environment unique for the species, or be “markedly” different genetically from other populations, or represent the last hope that the species would continue to populate the area in question.

Some members of the review team said the environment used by the northern and southern populations is similar. They argued that if the southern residents died off, their cousins to the north could repopulate the area. And while the two populations are genetically distinguishable, scientists disagree about whether they are “markedly” different.

“We’re not free to invoke the Endangered Species Act just because we really care about a population,” Lohn said.

But environmental groups take issue with these explanations.

“The northern residents are in trouble too, so what are they thinking?” asked Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound.

Environmentalists said the stronger protections could be given to the Puget Sound orcas because they speak a different whale language than the northern orcas, and have their own social structure and established behaviors. When the pods reunite at the beginning of the summer they have been observed ining up in an apparent greeting.

Lohn said that by deciding to declare the orcas “depleted” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, he hopes to draw national attention to their plight. A conservation plan will be created, he said.

“It sets an agenda for recovery,” he said.

Agency officials said they hope that Endangered Species Act protections given to Puget Sound chinook salmon will benefit the orcas as well.

The chief suspected causes of the orcas’ decline, scientists say, are the accumulation of toxic substances that impair their reproductive and immune systems; the decline of salmon runs, which provide the orcas’ favorite food, and possibly disturbance by whale watchers. Other, less-understood factors may also be at play, scientists say.

Lohn said the impact of these factors remains unclear and needs further investigation.

“We don’t know the answer,” he said. “Our knowledge at this time isn’t enough to speculate.”

Others disagree.

“We know plenty,” said Fletcher, the environmentalist. She worries that Lohn’s call for additional research instead of stronger action means “we’ll have a lot of dead whales but we won’t have a cleaned up Sound.”

Ken Balcomb, the longest-serving observer of the orcas, said the decision shows that the federal fisheries agency will do little to save the creatures. Echoing many scientists, Balcomb said helping orcas would mean removing dams to open up big swaths of salmon breeding grounds, and dealing with the accumulation of pollutants known as polychlorinated biphenyls once used as lubricants in electrical equipment.

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 85

“NMFS (the federal agency) is in the Department of Commerce, and commerce is the name of the game in America – all the dams, all the industrial lubricants, all the development we’ve done in the past that has contributed to this. That’s all something NMFS doesn’t want to address,” Balcomb said.

Like many, he predicted that the agency would seek to make whale-watching boats into scapegoats for the larger problems.

“It’s cheaper to just, ‘Let’s get the public thinking about this whale watching, and we can hire some enforcement officers and have them wave their badges,'” Balcomb said.

Brian Gorman, a federal fisheries spokesman, said the agency has previously issued guidelines advising whale-watching boats to stay at least 100 yards away from the whales. He said the agency is considering increasing that buffer to 400 yards, but that the guidelines would still be advisory.

That 400-yard buffer was immediately rejected by Bill Wright, vice president of the Whale Watch Operators Association Northwest. He said the whale-watching industry has worked with orca scientists since the early 1990s to develop a detailed series of guidelines that are emulated worldwide by whale-watchers.

“The idea of 400 yards is just way off the charts. We wouldn’t have a business,” said Wright, owner of San Juan Safaris. “There wouldn’t be any science to back that up. There hasn’t been any precedent like that around the world.”

Some scientists have wondered whether the boats’ engine noise might be interfering with the whales’ sophisticated, sonar-like system for finding food, known as echolocation.

Because of that concern, Wright said, the boat operators took scientists’ advice and agreed among themselves to slow their boats substantially whenever they are within a half mile of the orcas.

“The whales themselves come up to us in a lot of cases,” Wright said. That’s exactly what happened yesterday to several boats near the San Juan Islands, said Jim Maya, the proprietor at Maya’s Whale Watch Charters.

“We just had about 40 orcas come from about 200 yards away, come right to the boats, roll over on their sides and look at the people. We were dead in the water,” Maya said by cell phone from his 22-foot Arima.

“I think we’re part of the solution, not part of the problem. These people who are on my boat today will go home with a better appreciation of orcas.”

TWO LAWS

MARINE MAMMAL PROTECTION ACT – Makes it illegal, with certain exceptions, to “harass, hunt, capture or kill” orcas and other marine mammals. If a species falls to 60 percent of its original size, it is considered “depleted;” a conservation plan is drawn up to encourage research and guide government decisions. The goal is to restore the population to its “optimum sustainable population.” Governs National Marine Fisheries Service; provisions are non-binding.

ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT – Empowers the government to take strong actions to save an animal or plant in danger of extinction. In the orcas’ case, it might have bolstered environmentalists’ arguments against dumping of toxins in Puget Sound. The government also would be obliged to set numerical recovery goals, a schedule by which to reach them, and to outline specific steps to reach the goals. Citizens can sue to enforce the plans, which govern actions by all federal agencies.

See the last entry in THE SPRINGER FILE for the happy ending to this ESA story – “Orcas Will Be Protected as Endangered.”

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July 2002

Springer Goes Home…

July 2, 2002

Springer Ready To Go Home

By KOMO Staff & News Services

SEATTLE – An orphaned female orca has passed all medical tests and is ready to be reunited with her family in Canadian waters, a spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service said Tuesday.

“It is time for her to go home,” Brian Gorman said. “She’s got a ticket, her bags are packed and we’re just waiting for word from the Canadians.”

Gorman said U.S. researchers gave results of the orca’s final battery of medical tests to their Canadian counterparts over the weekend. She was found to have no communicable diseases, and an itchy skin condition and internal condition that made her breath smell like paint thinner have cleared up.

“She’s behaving like a healthy, active young whale,” Gorman said. Spokeswoman Michelle McCombs with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans did not immediately return a Tuesday call for comment on her agency’s stance in the matter.

Gorman said Canadian researchers probably got their first look at the latest test results Tuesday, since Monday was the Canada Day holiday.

He said the NMFS and Canadian officials had been in daily discussions about options for moving the 2-year-old, 1,240pound killer whale north. Authorities hope she will rejoin her family, or pod, when they make their annual summer visit to waters east of Vancouver Island.

She was captured by an NMFS team June 13, and has been under close watch since in a 40-by-40-foot holding pen in Clam Bay near Manchester, on the Kitsap Peninsula across Puget Sound from Seattle.

The agency decided to capture her in part because of concerns about her health, and also because she had become extremely friendly with small boats off Vashon Island – raising concerns about both her safety and that of boaters.

The whale, dubbed A73 by researchers for her order in her birth pod, was first spotted near the Vashon ferry dock in mid- January. Researchers believe her pod left her behind after her mother died, and she found her way into Puget Sound.

Whale activists are helping raise money to cover capture and relocation costs, which could reach $500,000.

The whale has adjusted well to captivity, Gorman said. Since her first few days in the pen, when she ate only one or two 5-pound salmon, she has increased her intake to a steady 40-50 pounds of fish and significantly more some days.

Canadian officials have said they would not allow A73 into their waters if there was any sign she could have communicable diseases. However, Gorman said the U.S. team has conducted an array of tests for diseases including the dangerous morbillivirus.

“It’s a bad virus,” he said. “It would have been a disqualifier. But we had run a test in May, one again after she was taken out of the Sound, and again last Tuesday, and she was negative all three times.”

Canadian experts will oversee the effort to reunite A73 with her home pod in Johnstone Strait, off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island. Plans call for her to be held in a penned-off cove to allow the her and the pod to become accustomed to each other.

Orcas, actually a kind of dolphin, are found in all the world’s oceans.

The population of Washington state’s three resident pods has dropped from 98 in 1995 to 78 today. NMFS considered listing the mammals for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act but said last month the pods did not qualify as a distinct subspecies. Other efforts are planned.

Orca Fund

The orca advocates have set up a fund to help pay for Springer’s rescue. It’s the “Orphan Orca Fund” set up at Islanders Bank in Friday Harbor.

The address is P.O. Box 909, Friday Harbor, Washington, 98250.

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 Screen shot 2013-04-27 at 4.08.22 PM

July 4, 2002

Bell’s Departure Clouds Future for Oregon Coast Aquarium

DIANE DIETZ, The Register-Guard

NEWPORT – Phyllis Bell, the Oregon Coast Aquarium executive director who oversaw the conversion of a Yaquina Bay shoreline into an internationally known tourist attraction, has resigned her post with little explanation.

Members of the aquarium’s nonprofit governing board had little to say about Bell’s decision to quit late Tuesday after more than a decade at the aquarium’s helm. President Al Gleason would not say if Bell’s departure was related to the financial problems the aquarium was facing earlier this year when it ran out of cash and had to restructure its debt.

“You need to ask her,” Gleason said. “She told us she wanted to resign for personal reasons.

We accepted that in good faith.”

Bell submitted her resignation during a meeting with aquarium board members. She hadn’t been at the aquarium since June 24, when the board put her on involuntary administrative leave. Reached at home Wednesday night, Bell said her decision was not related to her health, but she declined to comment further.

“I just resigned for personal reasons. That’s all,” she said.

Senior management at the aquarium are closely examining financial records, public relations officer Guy DiTorrice said.

“Every line item of the budget, every vendor relationship, every account payable,” he said.

The departure has spurred a stampede of rumors in Newport and the questions have spread to the people the aquarium most needs – the visitors, the members and the donors – who have kept the seaside attraction afloat. And after Keiko was gone, Bell pushed for an $8.8 million conversion to his old tank to produce the “Passages of the Deep” display with a 200-foot walk through a re-creation of the ocean depths. When it opened, attendance rebounded.

“This organization has seen the coming and going of a major Hollywood whale and it has survived that transition because of the dedication of the staff and volunteers,” DiTorrice said.

“We took our lumps in attendance drops when Keiko left. We generated support, expanded, grew a new feature exhibit – in his absence – and saw our attendance grow in the two years after he left.”

Bell was so omnipresent at each of the decade’s developments that she became the face and voice of the OCA.

“It would be hard to separate her from the aquarium,” then-Oregon State University President John Byrne, an aquarium board member, said in 1998.

But Bell had her troubles, too. She got into a public mudslingingScreen shot 2013-04-27 at 4.08.29 PM match with the Free-Willy Keiko Foundation, which was trying to restore the whale to its natural habitat. Members accused Bell and her staff of “gross negligence” in their care of the whale and accused them of sabotaging Keiko’s return to the wild to keep him for the aquarium’s “cash cow.”

Then, departing employees publicly complained about declining morale and Bell’s alleged interference in their jobs.

Aquarium board member Don Davis, a retired Newport city manager, said any person running a major institution for that long is bound to make some enemies. “I liked her as a human being, yeah. She was a warm individual.

She was never anything but kind to me,” he said Wednesday.

Today, the aquarium’s financial picture remains unclear. As Bell’s immediate replacement, the board promoted senior managers Patrick Helbling as temporary executive director and Rick Goulette as chief financial officer, DiTorrice said.

Board members will meet next week to go over the budget for the fiscal year that began Monday.

DiTorrice said layoffs are possible.

Aquarium operations are continuing as usual, he said. “The concept or idea of any sort of closure has never been discussed or entertained, ever.”

Davis, the board member, said the aquarium has a good management team in place now and it will survive Bell’s dramatic departure.

“I don’t think any one person is the aquarium,” he said. “It’s bigger than one person.”

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7/9/2002

Orphaned Whale to be Moved to B.C. Friday

KING 5 News

SEATTLE – Canadian officials said Tuesday that the orphaned killer whale captured in Puget Sound will be relocated to Canadian waters on Friday using a high-speed catamaran. The decision came after blood tests gave the young whale, which biologists refer to as A73, a clean bill of health.

“The team has determined that A73 does not pose any known threat to the northern population,” said Marilyn Joyce, a spokeswoman for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

A veterinarian for the Vancouver Aquarium, which is orchestrating the move, said that the whale’s skin problem and an internal condition that made her breath smell like paint thinner were resolving themselves.

The relocation plan outlined Tuesday calls for moving the whale, popularly referred to as Springer, to an 18-foot-long holding tank aboard a donated catamaran for the 10- to 12-hour trip. The trip is expected to begin around 7 a.m. Friday.

The Canadian experts will oversee the effort to reunite the orca with her home pod in Johnstone Strait, off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island. Plans call for her to be held in a net pen to allow her and the pod to become accustomed to each other.

Resource Links
Orca Conservancy
The Whale Museum
Vancouver Aquarium

The whale will be penned in waters where her closest relatives swim during the summer months. Once officials are convinced the whale is ready to be released, they will wait first for her immediate family, the A-24 group, to arrive in the area and release her in their presence, according to Lance Barrett-Lennard, with the Vancouver Aquarium.

If that opportunity doesn’t arise, another group that Springer and her mother have been known to associate with, the A-11 group, are the next best bet. Failing that, researchers will release her in the presence of any group of whales in the A pod or any resident whales.

Before she is released, she will be fitted with a suction-cup radio tag so that researchers can monitor her closely. U.S. researchers gave results of the orca’s final battery of medical tests to their Canadian counterparts at the end of June. She was found to have no communicable diseases.

Biologists treated the whale for worms, which proved to be very effective in getting her to eat more, according to Dr. David Huff, of the Vancouver Aquarium.

“Directly following her de-worming and being tubed with six liters of Dasani water, she turned right around and ate exceptionally well,” he said.

Huff said A73 was now consuming 60-70 pounds of fish a day. The whale was captured by a National Marine Fisheries Service team June 13, and has been under close watch in a 40-by-40-foot holding pen in Clam Bay near Manchester, on the Kitsap Peninsula across Puget Sound from Seattle.

The agency decided to capture her in part because of concerns about her health, and also because she had become extremely friendly with small boats off Vashon Island – raising concerns about both her safety and that of boaters.

The whale, dubbed A73 by researchers for her order in her birth pod, was first spotted near the Vashon ferry dock in mid-January. Researchers believe her pod left her behind after her mother died, and she found her way into Puget Sound.

Whale activists have been helping to raise money to cover capture and relocation costs, which could reach $500,000. Canadian officials made a similar plea for help Tuesday.

“We need the help of anyone who wants to help us,” the Aquarium’s Dr. John Nightingale said. Orcas, actually a kind of dolphin, are found in all the world’s oceans.

ORCA CONSERVANCY – THE SPRINGER FILE Page 89

The population of Washington state’s three resident pods has dropped from 98 in 1995 to 78 today. NMFS considered listing the mammals for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act but said last month the pods did not qualify as a distinct subspecies. Other efforts are planned.

KING5.com reporters Ellen Liang and Jim Klockow contributed to this story.
7/10/2002

Springer’s Family Arrives Early in Canada

By Darin Watkins, KING 5 News

SEATTLE – Springer, the orphaned orca may be reunited with her family much earlier then hoped. The orca’s family has returned to the waters off north Vancouver Island earlier then expected, opening the door for an early reunion.

Scientists announced plans Tuesday to move Springer this Friday but weren’t sure just when the young orca would be released. Tuesday night, biologists in north end of Vancouver Island heard the sounds that could change that thinking.

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Biologists captured sounds of A-4, the pod of orcas believed to be Springer’s relatives. The A-4 pod of orcas, Springer’s relatives, have returned early. The crews at the listening station recorded sounds of the returning whales.

“Everybody was really excited,” said Anna Spong, Orcalab. “It was an incredible coincidence with the announcement going out yesterday that Springer was coming home, and her family turning up, it was a very exciting moment for everyone here.”

The orcas were spotted off Hanson Island, near Port McNeil. The A-4 pod is Springer’s closest relatives and may include her grandmother. Scientists hope to reunite Springer with her pod near Port McNeil later this week. Biologists familiar with the group believe the chances are good.

“We think that there’s a reasonable chance of reconnecting her with the remaining members of her family, or with other family groups in the northern resident communities if she’s given a chance,” said Dr. Paul Spong, Orcalab.

Springer remains in a pen outside Manchester waiting for her trip north. With the early return of her pod to the waters of north Vancouver Island, it means that reunion could be moved up.

“With her family already in the area, it probably means she’ll be released hopefully very soon,” said Anna Spong.

It’s not clear yet if this A-4 group of orcas contains Springer’s aunt and grandmother.

Springer is still set to be moved Friday, but the early return of her pod means Springer’s release could happen very soon.

KING 5 News will follow Springer’s adventure to Vancouver Island. Be sure to join us Friday for special live coverage during KING 5 morning news and continuing coverage throughout the day.

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ORPHAN ORCA GOES TO CANADA
Published in The Bremerton Sun: 7/12/2002

Springer Might Have Family Waiting for Her

The 2-year-old will be returned to Johnston Strait today.

By Christopher Dunagan
Sun Staff

Springer, the orphan orca from Canada, may find her family within hearing distance when she returns home to Johnstone Strait late this afternoon or evening.

It would be a perfect ending to an unusual story — almost too perfect to hope for — but so far everything has gone like clockwork in the rescue of the 2-year-old orca, who showed up suddenly near Vashon Island six months ago.

Springer, officially known as A73, belongs to the A-24 matriline, which is named for her grandmother who still heads the group. The A-24 matriline (sometimes called a subpod in the United States) is part of the A-4 pod.

The remainder of the A-4 pod, another matriline called A-11, was sighted in Johnstone Strait earlier this week, but left the area Thursday, according to John Ford of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The two matrilines are so closely associated that one is rarely far behind the other, Ford said, which means that Springer’s grandmother, aunt and uncle could be in the immediate area when the young orca arrives today by high-speed catamaran after a 400-mile, 10- to 12-hour trip from Manchester in South Kitsap.

Nobody can predict whether Springer will choose to follow her pod or if the others will welcome her into the close-knit group, but experts say they will do everything they can to promote a successful reunion.

Today’s schedule calls for the killer whale to be lifted out of her net pen at the National Marine Fisheries Service lab at 6:30 a.m. She will be transported in an 18-foot box on the deck of a 140-foot catamaran, donated by Nichols Brothers Boat Building of Whidbey Island.

After she arrives at Hanson Island off the northeast shore of Vancouver Island, Springer will be kept in a net pen until members of a pod — preferably her own matriline — are in the area. Then she’ll be released with no advance notice to the public.

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7/12/2002

Whale Move Postponed

KING 5 News

MANCHESTER, Wash. – An orphaned whale plucked from the waters of Puget Sound in June will have to wait another day to be relocated to her home waters off Vancouver Island. The move was delayed after mechanical problems slowed the boat that was to transport her.

Boatworkers and biologists earlier raced against the clock to pull off the move. But those plans hit a snag early when the high-speed catamaran donated for the mission could not reach its top speed.

The young whale was captured after she appeared to have taken up residence in the waters off of Vashon Island, Wash. She suffered from a variety of minor health conditions and biologist feared that she would suffer if left to live by herself, an unnatural state for killer whales.

By shortly after 9 a.m., Friday crews had attempted a repair to the Catalina Jet, taken the boat for a test run and bioligists and aquarium workers re-boarded the craft, which headed to Everett to refuel.

But in a news conference at around 10 a.m., Canadian and U.S. officials decided to call the mission off for the day.

“We were concerned that the window for transporting the whale is too narrow. We want to make sure there’s daylight at the other end,” said National Marine Fisheries Service spokesman Joe Scordino.

It was important the catamaran move at full speed for the 400-mile trip in order to get to Canada before nightfall and to decrease the amount of time the whale spends in a holding tank on board, Clint Wright with the Vancouver Aquarium said.

The trip is estimated to take between 10 and 12 hours.

The goal was to transport the orca, popularly named Springer, Friday on the catamaran to the northern tip of Vancouver Island for an eventual reunion with her pod. The whale spent more than six months off Vashon Island in Puget Sound after it is believed her mother died.

Standing in front of a small army of television satellite trucks, Scordino and Wright were unconcerned about the delay, saying it didn’t add significantly to the expense of the trip and certainly didn’t jeopardize the move.

“It’s not a big deal,” Scordino said. “We see everything as a green light for tomorrow.”

Officials now say they will make their second attempt beginning around 5:30 a.m. or 6 a.m. Saturday morning.

The boat, the Catalina Jet, will spend the night in Manchester Friday where the whale is now being kept, enabling workers to begin earlier.

Wright said the boat’s problems were not significant and were caused by debris clogged in the craft’s propulsion system that prevented it from getting to its top speed.

A piece of plastic lodged in one of the catamaran’s intake valves is believed to have caused the problem.

Asked about backup plans in the event the boat actually breaks down, Wright said it would be possible to truck the whale the rest of the distance on Vancouver Island.

“We have that all lined up and we have a barge ready at the other end if we need to do that,” he said.

The whale, in the meantime, remained in her pen.

“Springer’s doing well. She’s in the net pen. She looks ready to go,” Wright said earlier.

Wright said a day or two delay wouldn’t make a difference in returning Springer to her pod in Canada.

NEXT PART FOUR

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.
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