Orphaned orca seen with family
'Obviously hearing the whales going by'
TELEGRAPH COVE, British Columbia (CNN) -- An orphaned orca whale, who was just recently returned to her native waters, has gone to the beach with members of her family.
The two-year-old killer whale visited a killer whale "rubbing beach" on Monday with members of her birth pod, said Lance Barrett-Lennard, a Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center whale expert.
Orcas swim close to the shore on the east side of Vancouver Island, the only place in the world killer whales exhibit this behaviour, and massage their bellies on the smooth stones of the beach.
Earlier in the day, the whale -- called "Springer" and "A-73" (the scientific designation) -- had been seen swimming a quarter-mile to a half-mile (400 metres to 800 metres) behind the group of A-clan.
The one-ton orca was released into the wild on Sunday, following months of care and rehabilitation in Washington state, in hopes she would rejoin her long-lost family.
Before her release, researchers noticed a pod of whales about three miles away, to which Springer responded immediately, Barrett-Lennard said.
"Springer became very excited, very vocal, very animated, breached, called very loudly, and began to orient on the end of the pen facing out toward the open water," he said. "She was obviously hearing the whales going by."
The whale pod included members of her immediate family, Barrett-Lennard said, and it sounded like they were interacting with Springer before they moved away.
"You got the impression they were being kind of coy. Killer whales are very cautious animals," Barrett-Lennard told The Associated Press. "Her calls were so loud they practically blew our earphones off."
Uses same dialect
Springer was discovered in January off the Vashon Island ferry dock in Puget Sound -- her pod nowhere in sight. Scientists determined that her mother had died shortly beforehand.
It is unusual to find a solitary orca, particularly a juvenile, because killer whales typically travel in cohesive family groups.
A team of experts determined Springer had little chance for survival on her own, so they captured her and moved her into a holding pen, where they gave her food and medical attention to eradicate worms and treat a skin condition.
After nearly seven months of observation, scientists and veterinarians put Springer on a catamaran and took her 350 miles north to Canada.
Whether Springer will rejoin the pod remains unknown. If successful, it would mark the first time an orca had been reintroduced to its pod.
If she is not accepted by her original pod, scientists hope Springer will join another pod spotted in the region. That pod uses the same dialect as Springer, scientists said.
Springer is wearing a VHF radio tag, attached by suction cups, so researchers can monitor her movements. Barrett-Lennard joked that more elaborate tracking mechanisms would only make Springer look like a "tourist" whale in the open ocean, where they hope Springer will simply be a wild whale.
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