Positive Environment News

Orphaned whale strays from Canada pod, seeks boats

Date: 19-Jul-02
Country: CANADA
Author: Allan Dowd

The whale, nicknamed Springer, got separated from the pod as the whales began swimming at a higher speed in the Johnstone Strait near where the orca was released after being returned from U.S. waters, the Vancouver Aquarium said.

"When they are moving along slowly, cruising or feeding, she is fine. When they left she resorted to her old habit of approaching boats," Lance Barrett-Lennard, a scientist involved in the reunification effort said in a statement.

U.S. and Canadian officials have cited worries that the two-year-old female whale was becoming too friendly with humans as one of the reasons they decided to return her to Canada from a busy shipping channel near Seattle.

The whale, officially named A-73, is believed to have gone into U.S. waters late last year after she became lost or was rejected by her pod after her mother died.

If this reunification effort is successful it would mark the first time scientists have arranged a family reunion for ta wild orca. The have said that even if it does not happen they will be happy if A-73 is able to remain a wild animal.

The orca was sick when she was captured in May and had to be nursed back to health before she could be returned to an island off northern Vancouver Island at Telegraph Cove, British Columbia. She was released on Sunday.

She swam near a pod of related whales for two days but became separated on Tuesday. The black and white, 545 kg (1,200-pound) mammal then approached a small boat and rubbed amiably against the hull - reportedly to the dismay of the fisherman.

A-73 tried to follow the boat as it left, but could not swim faster than 7 knots (8 mph, 13 km/h), which Barrett-Lennard said reinforced his view that she cannot stay with the other whales when they moved quickly.

Killer whales can swim at up to 12 knots (14 mph, 23 km/h).

The whale, who in human terms is the equivalent of a toddler, had another boat incident this week, but officials said that was not totally unexpected given her behavior when living near Seattle.

"It seems clear that when she is with whales she pays little attention to boats. It is when she alone that she seeks the companionship of boats," Barrett-Lennard said in an update on the whale's condition.

Officials have been asking boaters to avoid A-73 and try to leave her behind if she approaches so she does not receive the "positive reinforcement" she received from humans while in the U.S. Puget Sound.

© Thomson Reuters 2002 All rights reserved

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