Springer update… Looking good! – August 2nd 2002

Springer (A73) is showing every sign of adjusting successfully to her new life in the wild. When we saw her last, two evenings ago, close in front of OrcaLab heading north, she was travelling closest to her natal matriline, the A24s – with her “adopted” matriline, the A25s, not far behind. This is a very interesting and probably significant development. From the beginning, Springer’s progress in reintegrating with her community has been incremental. At first she remained at some distance from the other orcas; then she followed the A12s & A35s into Johnstone Strait & eventually mingled with them, associating most closely with a young male, A55, before heading into the rubbing beaches with the whole group; separating again, she spent the next day (July 16th) worrying everyone with scary “boat behaviour”, then remained alone at the “top” of Blackfish Sound much of the following day until being picked up by the A36 brothers and escorted back into the Strait; not long after, she met up with the A25s – fellow orphans A51 & A61 – and stayed very close to them for over a week. During that time it became clear that 16 year old A51, who may have lost her first baby two years ago, was paying very close attention to Springer & acting for all the world like an attentive mother. On two occasions she was observed actively intervening as Springer headed off towards boats. One report came from researcher Lance Barret-Lennard (described in our 7.24 update). The other report came from Brian Faulkner, the skipper of the whale watching vessel Lukwa when he was at the “top” of Blackfish Sound watching the parade of orcas passing by in the evening. He noticed a very young member of a group of 4 orcas with small dorsal fins a couple of hundred meters away suddenly turn and head towards the Lukwa – immediately, the largest female in the group chased after the youngster, dove quickly underneath, & literally hurled her back towards the others! The event was so startling that Brian thought it must have been A51 & A73. We felt confident that it must have been, as the timing fitted our own observation of the progression of the whales as they headed “out” a short time earlier. In the days that followed, we became increasingly confident that Springer’s impulse to approach boats was coming under control. Just the same, we were quite worried at the prospect of a commercial fishing “opening” in Johnstone Strait on July 30th & hoped the whales would elect to go elsewhere. They didn’t – in fact, they spent the whole of that day & the next in the Strait, casually travelling back & forth amongst a fleet of gill net vessels and their drifting nets. Springer, so far as we know, approached no vessels at all, and indeed, off Cracroft Point in full view of the Orca-live audience, negotiated her way between a sports fishing vessel and a whale watching vessel without a pause. We felt like celebrating! Very interestingly, at that time she was travelling ahead of A51 & A61, mixed in with a group of other orcas that included her grandmother, A24. As the whales headed into the setting sun Springer launched her little body into a full breach… and then she did it again, & again! An hour later, when the orcas passed in front of OrcaLab, she was still with them – close to, though not right beside Granny… and with A71 & A64, her mum’s siblings. The “new” association with her natal group was a logical one for Springer, as A71 had already been spending time close to A73… in fact, from soon after A51 & A61 took her in tow. Needless to say, we are enormously encouraged by these developments, and though we are not ready to pronounce Springer’s reintegration complete, we do believe she is making great progress. In the 3 short weeks since her return to home waters, Springer has been in the company of more than half of the 200+ northern resident orcas, 21 of her community’s 34 matrilines, and families from all 3 clans. It seems to us that we been seeing clear signs of bonding and acceptance as Springer makes her way back into her world… perhaps we have also been witnessing rites that go with reunion. As ever, though not without anxiety, we eagerly await the orcas’ return, and the next chapter in Springer’s tale.

Paul Spong

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