Contact: Michael Harris,
Executive Director, Pacific Whale Watch Association
Monday, July 8th, 2013
SPRINGER THE ORCA IS A MOTHER!
Northern Resident Orca Rescued 11 Years Ago Returns to BC With Newborn in Tow
A73, also known as Springer, seen off the central coast of Vancouver Island, BC on July 4th with baby.
(Photo: Graeme Ellis, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
It was perhaps the most famous human intervention on behalf of a wild whale in history, leading to the first-ever successful rescue and repatriation of an orca and an effort that captured the imagination of the world. And today, the saga is closer than ever to a Hollywood ending – researchers have just confirmed that A73, also known as Springer, is now a new mother.
In January 2002 the orphaned orca was found sick and alone in the congested ferry lanes off West Seattle, some 250 miles from her home waters of Johnstone Strait, British Columbia. Her plight became top story in the local media, and soon an intense debate raged about what to do with the wayward whale. Some activists wanted to leave her alone, hoping that somehow she’d find her way home. Marine parks took an interest in the young resident orca. But other groups, including OrcaLab, the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation and Orca Conservancy, successfully persuaded NOAA Fisheries to directly intervene, capture the orca and return her to her family in BC. Another key supporter of the Springer rescue was the Whale Watch Association Northwest, now known as the Pacific Whale Watch Association.
That summer, with the world’s media watching, Springer was corralled in Puget Sound, brought to a seapen site in Manchester, WA to undergo medical tests, and then once cleared of any communicable diseases, put onto a 144-foot catamaran and brought back to Johnstone Strait. The next day Springer was released into her natal pod, and after a few days and with the help of her extended orca family, she was back to being a wild whale again.
“It’s been eleven years since her release back to her home waters and her story continues,” said Helena Symonds of OrcaLab, which hosted the Springer effort on Hanson Island, BC, and was a key operational lead on her repatriation. “Yesterday, we were incredibly sad at the realisation that Tsitika (A30) is gone. For us, it was the very deep sadness of losing an old friend. But today, the future looks bright once again. Everyone here is beside themselves.”
“This is great news given all she went through as an orphaned calf, her rescue in Seattle and her successful release back to the wild,” said Dr. John Ford of Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. “Let’s hope both she and her calf continue to thrive!”
And researchers warn that’s a tall order – it’s estimated that some 40% of newborn resident orcas in the Pacific Northwest don’t survive their first year. It’s still too early to pass around cigars, but not to early to celebrate Springer.
“This is what we’ve been dreaming of since the day we first discovered her off the ferry dock at Fauntleroy,” said Michael Harris, Executive Director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association and Immediate Past President of Orca Conservancy, one of the non-government organizations that initiated the effort to save Springer, ultimately helping to raise over a quarter-million dollars to make it happen. “Every step of the way, this little orphaned orca had enormous obstacles to clear. Would she be healthy enough to rescue? Would she get medical clearance for a trip home? Would she be accepted back into her pod? Was this a crazy idea to even try? And yet, Springer kept surprising us all.
“But we always knew that the true measure of the success of the project was if she lived long enough to become a reproductive member of the Northern Resident Community,” continued Harris. “This baby has its own obstacles now, perhaps even bigger than its mother had. Many don’t get past that first, tough year. But hey, this is Springer’s kid – it’s got the genes of a survivor. And as we learned with Springer, it definitely takes a village to raise a killer whale, and the Northerns are an amazing village. We have a feeling that this baby will make it.”
HOW TO HELP: For all those who want to help Springer and her family, contact OrcaLab.
Or become a Member of The Center for Whale Research! The Pacific Whale Watch Association is proud to be a longtime supporter of Ken Balcomb and his team. Help them help the whales.