July 8, 2013 6:21 pm

First killer whale to be captured and successfully re-integrated into the wild sighted with a calf

Springer, a baby killer whale that made headlines eleven years ago after she was captured and successfully reunited with her pod, has been recently spotted near Bella Bella with a calf.

In 2002, one-year-old Springer was discovered alone and emaciated in Puget Sound near Seattle, Washington. Researchers saw her interacting with drifting pieces of wood and boats, and got concerned with her well-being.

After losing her mother and pod, she was struggling to stay alive. Springer was judged to be in poor health and unlikely to survive alone.

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She was identified by researchers as species A73 – from the “A” pod, one of Canada’s Northern Resident killer whale communities, which has been studied since the early 1970s.

Springer became part of an unprecedented rescue effort – a coordination project between U.S. and Canadian researchers, including experts from the Vancouver Aquarium.

In June of 2002, after several months of monitoring her deteriorating condition, Springer was transported from Puget Sound and placed into a net pen at a research station, where she was rehabilitated.

When she was strong enough, Springer was brought back home into Canadian waters.

She was released when her pod made contact. Although not immediately, Springer was eventually re-adopted by her family.

She is the first killer whale ever to have been captured and then successfully re-integrated into her pod.

Springer makes annual trips back to the B.C. coast, and during the most recent sighting, she was spotted with her first calf. Both are believed to be in good health.

The gender and the age of the calf have not been determined yet.

Research technician Graeme Ellis with DFO’s Pacific Biological Station was the first to confirm the sighting of Springer and her calf.

“It was terrific. We have been expecting her to give birth one of these years as she has just reached that age,” says Ellis. “To me, it was going to be the ultimate sign that the re-introduction was a success…that she became an active member of the population.”

Marine mammal researcher Dr. John Ford with DFO was the lead biologist on Springer’s relocation.

He says Springer’s success story is a promise that whale rehabilitation is possible.

“We are pleased and gratified that after all the effort that went into Springer’s rehabilitation and release by so many different groups of people, she continues to thrive, and of course having her first calf pretty much on schedule at 13-years old is a great sign that she is a normal functioning member of the community again.

So it gives us hope that if this kind of event takes place in the future, provided all the right bits are in place, that these kinds of efforts can be successful.”

Watch archive video of Springer’s original rehabilitation and rescue:

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