Positive Environment News

US ready to ship sick whale home to Canada

Date: 04-Jul-02
Country: USA
Author: Chris Stetkiewicz

The black-and-white, 1,200-pound (545 kg) killer whale, also known as an orca, can go home as soon as Canada agrees to take her, said Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle.

"We certainly think she's got a clean bill of health," Gorman said by telephone. "I'm confident that this whale is going to move up to Canada very, very soon, but it is up to (Canadian officials) and I believe we will have that conversation tomorrow."

The orca, dubbed A-73 for her birth position in her estranged family, somehow meandered to Seattle from home waters some 250 miles (400 km) to the north after the death of her mother.

Despite an itchy skin condition and bad breath perhaps caused by intestinal worms, the whale had charmed Seattle area residents as she frolicked near ferries and other boats in busy shipping channels.

Her illnesses proved minor, indicating she would not infect or otherwise harm other whales if she were relocated, Gorman said.

"She has been eating robustly, about 40 to 60 pounds (18 to 27 kg) of live salmon every day," he said.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada said before issuing a permit for the whale to cross the border its experts must still examine the animal to see it is not carrying any diseases that would endanger other whales and certify that it can survive the journey.

"We hope to have a decision by the end of the week," said Michelle McCombs, a spokeswoman for the federal agency.

Officials have not yet determined how to transport the orca, though biologists had expressed a presence for a marine "hovercraft," which could zip along at up to 45 miles per hour (72 kph).

The rescue effort is the first of its kind and followed an international debate over its merits and its costs, estimated at more than $200,000.

Left alone, the whale would almost surely have died of malnutrition or been struck by a boat, advocates have said. With local orca populations already small and in some cases declining, conservationists had lobbied vocally for rescue.

(-additional reporting by Allan Dowd in Vancouver).

© Thomson Reuters 2002 All rights reserved

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