The first calf of Springer the orphaned killer whale, the only orca ever successfully rescued and reunited with its pod, finally has a name — Spirit.
Springer, a member of B.C.’s A-4 pod of northern resident killer whales, made a name for herself in 2002 after she was spotted sick and alone near Seattle.
U.S. and Canadian governments and scientists united to work with the Vancouver Aquarium to rescue and rehabilitate Springer and later that year, reunite with her pod.
Springer, now 14 years old, was first spotted with her own young calf on July 4, 2013 off the north coast of B.C. near Bella Bella.
The Vancouver Aquarium says Springer was then seen again with her one-year-old calf this June.
Suggestions for a name came from the public, with Spirit being chosen — after Spirit Island on B.C.’s central coast, close to where the calf was spotted.
Lonely orca unlikely to survive
Springer, who is officially known as A-73, first rose to fame when she turned up in Puget Sound near Seattle around 2002.
Experts already knew the orphaned juvenile had become separated from her pod after her mother died and had failed in one attempt to join another pod of killer whales.
The lonely orca appeared to be in poor health and attempting to make friends with boats and logs. U.S. officials determined she was unlikely to survive on her own in the busy shipping lane and captured her.
She was kept in a net pen for a month to nurse her back to health and then transported to Blackfish Sound at the north end of Vancouver Island to be reunited with her original pod, known as A-4.
Shortly after Springer arrived, the pod was spotted in the area and officials made the decision to immediately release Springer, who was now in great health, and over the next few weeks she was spotted slowly reintegrating with her pod.
Every year since then officials have been monitoring her progress in the pod.
Officials say Springer is the first known case of a killer whale being captured, rehabilitated and successfully released back to their pod.
Biologists say female killer whales normally stay with their pod for their whole life, and each pod shares unique vocalizations, which likely helped Springer reintegrate with her extended family.