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Experts who study whales are confident that if the plan to rescue the B.C. orca calf is successful, it will survive and be able to find its family

“I think there’s a really good chance she can make it,” said marine scientist Jared Towers

In Zeballos, the chances of a two-year-old orca surviving alone in the open ocean and reuniting with family are good if a rescue team can free the orca from the Vancouver Island lagoon, experts say.

Efforts to rescue the orca were paused when the young whale finally ate some seal meat, giving the team more time to consider their next steps. The rescue plan involves using boats, nets, divers, and drones to catch the calf, place her in a sling, and release her in the nearby ocean.

The video confirmation of the orca calf eating the seal meat has given the rescue team, which includes Indigenous leaders, federal Fisheries Department specialists, and fishing experts, more time to think about their options.

Marine scientist Jared Towers, who has been working with the rescue team, believes there's a good chance the calf will survive, given her resilience and behavior despite the circumstances after her mother's death.

Towers, a marine scientist studying B.C. whales, mentioned that the trapped calf has shown resilience and typical killer whale behavior, which gives hope for her connection with other whales.

Towers, a researcher specializing in west coast B.C. whales, observed Gray whales in the ocean near Zeballos but did not find any signs of killer whales related to the trapped calf.

The last time members of the young orca’s pod were seen was over two weeks ago in the Barkley Sound area south of Zeballos and near Port Alberni, he said.

The calf, named kwiisahi?is or Brave Little Hunter by the local Ehattesaht First Nation, is about three meters long and weighs an estimated 700 kilograms.

The population includes more than 24 living members, and many spend time off the west coast of Vancouver Island, roaming between there and Haida Gwaii, and occasionally the Salish Sea.

It's not unusual for young killer whales to leave their families for long periods, giving the team hope that the young orca will reunite with her family if she can return to the ocean.

orca

An expert from the Vancouver Aquarium involved in the rescue attempts believes the calf may be feeding on fish in the B.C. lagoon where she has been trapped for over three weeks. The rescue team stood down after a failed attempt to capture and relocate the calf on Friday.

Paul Cottrell, who is in charge of marine mammals at the federal Fisheries Department, said the orca calf's willingness to eat seal meat provided by a local Indigenous fisheries steward has boosted the rescue team's confidence.

The rescue team may now consider using seal meat to attract the orca to shallower water, which he referred to as a 'carrot option' to coax her, he said.

Cottrell mentioned that if the team successfully releases the young orca into the open ocean, they hope to observe her movements and possibly report a reunion with her marine family.

“We were thinking about attaching a satellite tag to this young calf, but it could add more stress and the risk of infection to the animal,” he said. “Our approach would be to keep monitoring the area if the animal is released. We should know relatively quickly if the animal rejoins a pod.”

Cottrell also mentioned that the west coast of Vancouver Island has many First Nations, whale researchers, and boaters who keep the team informed about the whales' locations.

Towers is also hopeful about the calf's chances, noting that similar rescue efforts and subsequent reunions have been successful before.

“Over 10 years ago, we rescued a four-year-old female Bigg’s killer whale in a situation similar to this,” he said. “That whale was in much worse health than kwiisahi?is and it took a couple weeks, but eventually she reappeared, and a few months later, she showed up with other whales.”

He added that the whale is now a healthy adult female.


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