In what’s believed to be an unprecedented success story, an orphaned orca whale who was reintroduced to her pod after human intervention has been spotted with a healthy calf by Canadian biologists who were conducting an annual survey off the coast of British Columbia.
Seeing her with her baby is “the ultimate sign that this whole reintroduction was a success. It was very exciting,” Graeme Ellis, a research technician with Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Pacific Biological Station, told National Geographic.
The orca, nicknamed Springer, made headlines in January of 2002 when she was spotted alone in the waters off of Seattle and described to be lonely and in poor health.
Whale researchers had been able to identify her as a member of the A4 pod of Northern Resident orca whales based on her distinct vocalizations and photos from previous years. She herself was identified as A-73, whose mother was presumed dead, and she was about 300 miles away from her home waters off northern Vancouver Island in Canada.
Following her identification, there was a lot of debate at the time about what to do for her while a group of scientists, biologists and veterinarians deliberated about whether to intervene at all and, if they did, whether she should be moved to a theme park or kept at a marine center or sea pen for rehabilitation.
By that April, officials vowed that if intervention was necessary Springer would be returned home. Meanwhile, she was dealing with a skin infection, and the smell of her breath had some worried she may be starving, diabetic or suffering from a genetic condition. With increasing concerns that she may also become habituated to people, whale researchers were hired to patrol the area she was in to ensure that boaters didn’t approach her or linger.
After she was eventually captured, Springer spent about a month in a sea pen while officials in the U.S. and Canada worked out the details about how to get her home and worried about whether she would be accepted back into her pod. After being nursed back to health and when she was considered strong enough to make the move, she was taken back to her home waters via a high-speed catamaran and released near her family.
Even after successfully moving her and releasing near her own clan without incident, she still caused those involved to worry about whether her social skills were up to par.
“When we released her she went in the opposite direction, to boats. We were a little disheartened,” John Ford, head of the Cetacean Research Program with Fisheries and Oceans Canada told the Seattle Times. “But within a few days, she was tagging along and accepted, and fit right in.”
“It gives us hope that if such an event happens in the future, provided that all the right bits are in place―that is, knowing who the animal is and what group it comes from―that these kinds of efforts can be successful.”
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