A little before 7am on July 27th a large group of orcas passed OrcaLab close to the Hanson Island shore, heading towards Johnstone Strait. The orcas were moving quickly in a tightly packed group, their dorsal fins rising and disappearing almost in unison. Peering through spotting ‘scopes, we were startled to see a large reddish patch that appeared to be a fresh wound in the area of the saddle patch on an individual in the middle of the group. The patch looked raw though it was not obviously bleeding. We were unsure as to the whale’s identity. A few days later, one of the whale watching vessels reported a huge wound on the right side of an orca. Then, on August 2nd, DFO researcher Graeme Ellis positively identified the injured orca as A60. The wound is huge and was almost certainly caused by the propeller of a fairly large vessel moving at considerable speed. Photographs show a series of deep cuts in A60’s right side beginning in front of the saddle patch and extending well behind it. Some of the cuts appear to have gone through the blubber layer. The images presented here, taken by photographer Rolf Hicker (www.hickerphoto.com), show that A60’s wound is serious. We thank Rolf for permitting this use.
A60 (Fife) is 11 years old. He is a member of the A23 matriline of the A5 pod. This group suffered from two captures, in 1968 and 1969, during which it lost the majority of its members. Over the years, several A5 pod members have suffered major injuries caused by vessel propellers. The pod’s matriarch, A9, had scars on her back almost to her backbone. Another member (A21) died after being struck by a ferry propeller in 1973. A60’s mother A23 (Stripe) had several major injuries though not all were caused by propeller strikes. Today, the A5 pod has just 8 members in the wild, a number that is down considerably from the 13 of four years ago. One additional member remains captive. She is Corky, A60’s oldest sister, one of just two survivors from the era of “live captures” that took place in the 1960s & ‘70s and devastated the orca populations of the Pacific Northwest.
We cannot know if A60 will survive his injury. At this time he still looks strong and is having no apparent difficulty keeping up with the other orcas. But infection could easily set in. In the days ahead, we will be watching him closely, and hoping for his recovery from this tragic (and unnecessary) accident.