Orca rescue effort delayed
Authorities hope she will rejoin her family
MANCHESTER, Washington (CNN) -- The attempt to return an orphaned orca to her home waters in Canada has been delayed until Saturday at daybreak.
Friday's planned departure of a 144-foot catamaran outfitted with a tank to carry the whale to the northern end of Vancouver Island, 350 miles away, was canceled after debris in an intake valve slowed the boat.
The Catalina Jet was to have picked up the killer whale Friday morning for the trip to Johnstone Strait, British Columbia.
But, en route to the animal's pen at a research center in Manchester, the catamaran was able to muster just 20 knots, half its maximum speed, and a pace so slow the animal's health would have been jeopardized on the trip north, rescue organizers said.
The boat returned to Langley on Whidbey Island, where a diver cleared away the debris. The craft was pronounced repaired Friday morning, but officials determined it was too late to try to undertake the 10-hour journey.
The 1,240-pound killer whale has been in a temporary holding facility while she regained strength to help her withstand being taken to Canadian waters, where authorities hope she will be able to rejoin her family.
Dubbed "Springer," the whale was discovered in January off the Vashon Island ferry dock in Puget Sound -- her northern killer whale, or orca, pod nowhere around. Scientists who track the pod determined that Springer's mother had died shortly beforehand.
Marine scientists decided to try to reunite her with the pod, something never before done with an orca.
At two years of age, Springer is considered a baby among whales, for whom a life span of 80 years is not unusual.
Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans issued a transport permit for the trip based on advice from a Canadian medical assessment team that included representatives of the department, the Vancouver Aquarium, and external veterinary, pathology and marine mammal biology experts.
They concluded the whale's health is good, she is feeding well, is active and is showing no abnormal behavior. She has been treated for parasites, and a stress-related skin condition she had before being captured is clearing up.
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center is leading in the care, handling and transport of the whale, known among those who study killer whale populations as A73, under the authority of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service.
Other killer whales have been transported from one location to another but have remained in captivity.
Springer was first observed alone in Washington's Puget Sound in an area of heavy boat traffic, including a ferry route. It is unusual to find a solitary orca, particularly a juvenile, because killer whales normally travel in cohesive family groups. A team of experts determined Springer had little chance for survival on her own.
She was captured, moved to a holding pen, fed remotely, and given minimal medical attention to improve her health.
After being moved to Canadian waters, she will be kept in a large ocean net enclosure with minimal human contact until her pod returns to nearby waters, which experts who monitor the migration of the northern resident whales expect to occur between late July and early September.
Whether she will be able to rejoin the pod remains an unknown.
Because of its dwindling numbers, the orca enjoys protected status and is being considered for endangered status. There are about 300 of the whales in pods in the Pacific, experts say.
Orphan whale to go home
July 11, 2002
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