September 12, 2013 7:00 pm
Updated: September 12, 2013 11:17 pm

Trapped juvenile killer whale rescued near remote island on B.C.’s central coast

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Watch: Hear Sam’s call and meet his rescuers in Linda’s Aylesworth report.

It appears to be a happy ending for a young orca whale, or killer whale, named Sam, who was rescued on Thursday by Vancouver Aquarium and Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) scientists.

Sam (T046C2) was stranded in remote Weeteam Bay on Aristazabal Island, located on the central coast of B.C. It is a very isolated area and he was discovered by chance three weeks ago by a DFO Cetacean Research team.

“The juvenile transient killer whale, which we’ve named Sam, was discovered three weeks ago alone in a small bay with a very narrow entrance. When first discovered by a research team anchored in the bay for the night, it was calling for its mother,” said Vancouver Aquarium’s marine mammal research program director and scientist Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard.

Sam swimming out to sea. Credit: Vancouver Aquarium

Vancouver Aquarium

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Sam was first spotted on July 23 when researchers Dr. John Ford and Graeme Ellis were passing through the area after a whale survey. They pulled into the bay to anchor for the night. Sam did not approach their boat and remained in the bay. Ford and Ellis could hear him calling out for his mom throughout the night, and so asked Vancouver Aquarium’s research scientist, Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, to check on it during his next research trip to the area.

On July 31. Barrett-Lennard visited Weeteam Bay and saw that Sam was still there. He appeared to be in good shape, but was still calling loudly and repeatedly and seemed unwilling to pass through the bay’s shallow entrance. Barrett-Lennard monitored the whale every day for the next five days, but did not notice any change in his behaviour. Sam did appear to chase salmon on several occasions, but did not eat any, and also chased and occasionally caught, seabirds. The Vancouver Aquarium says transient killer whales do not normally eat fish as they prefer seals, sea lions, porpoises and other marine mammals.

During the week, Barrett-Lennard made several attempts to entice Sam to leave the harbour by playing transient whale calls with an underwater speaker. Sam was interested in the calls, but appeared to be afraid to pass through the harbour entrance.

On August 10, Barrett-Lennard returned to the bay, and saw that Sam’s condition had deteriorated. He had a slight depression behind the blowhole, which is often an indicator of poor nutrition and weight loss.

On August 14, Barrett-Lennard and Ford returned to Weeteam Bay and found Sam still there. Then on August 15, Vancouver Aquarium and DFO research teams used a dual approach to rescue Sam and help him leave the area.

They slowly towed a floating line across the harbour towards the entrance while simultaneously playing transient killer whale calls outside the harbour. The Vancouver Aquarium says Sam “shot” through the entrance “like a cork” and porpoised next to the Aquarium’s research boat, Skana, before continuing on his way. He the proceeded to accompany Skana to the mouth of Weeteam Bay.

Barrett-Lennard will remain in the area for the next few days to watch over Sam in the hopes that he is reunited with his family.

The Vancouver Aquarium says Sam (T046C2) was born in 2009 and is a member of a transient killer whale family that is seen relatively infrequently—their last sighting was two years ago. The identification of Sam was based on his uniquely-shaped white eye patches, shape of his dorsal fin and scratches and scars on his white saddle patch.

Boaters in local waters are asked to keep a lookout for Sam. If spotted, please keep your distance and report your sighting to the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network at 1 866 I SAW ONE or sightings@vanaqua.org.

The markings on Sam’s fin.Credit: Vancouver Aquarium

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