She came home – August 29th 2009

At 68 years of age, the matriarch A12 (Scimitar) is one of two oldest female orcas in British Columbia’s Northern Resident community.   Recently, with the death of her 38 year old son Nimpkish, who had been Scimitar’s constant companion for many years, she has provided us with a perfect example of the glue the binds orca society together.

Scimitar’s name reflects the shape of her dorsal fin, which makes her easy to identify at a glance.  Her family, “the A12s” has been well known to orca watchers since the 1970s, when Scimitar was accompanied by a young family of three – two sons, one already an adult (A31, Pulteney, b. 1959) another still a youngster (A33, Nimpkish, b. 1971), and a female baby (A34, Simoom, b. 1975).   In 1990, Simoom’s first baby was born and Scimitar became a grandmother.  Simoom went on to become a prolific mum, having four more babies over the next 15 years, one of whom, A74 (Stormy) died in 2006.  In 2005, at age 12, Simoom’s eldest daughter A62 (Echo) had her first baby, making Scimitar a great granny.  This year, two more grandkids have been added, one by Echo and another by Simoom’s second daughter, A67 (Eclipse), her first baby.

As Simoom’s family grew, Scimitar’s life changed.  Pulteney died in early 1997, just over year after an incident in which Simoom was struck by a speeding boat while nursing.  Though neither Simoom nor Echo were seriously injured, Pulteney was so affected by what had happened to his sister that he stranded in shallow waters that evening.  Fortunately, he managed to escape his predicament, but the trauma may have contributed to his death soon afterwards.  In the 12 years that followed, Scimitar and Nimpkish became incredibly close.  Whenever seen in recent years, they have been swimming side by side, quite often separately from Simoom’s family.  Sadly, Nimpkish died recently, and when Scimitar was sighted on June 19th in British Columbia’s central coast, she was alone.   Two weeks later, Simoom brought her to the edge of the “core area”, and then left.  When first seen on July 4th, Scimitar was floating at the surface; as this can be a sign of weakness in older orcas, we were concerned for her.  However, over the next 8 days, when she was the only orca in the area, Scimitar behaved so normally & energetically – traveling, foraging, having a rub – that our concerns were replaced by curiosity about what would happen next. 

When Tsitika (A30) and her family arrived on July 13th, Scimitar immediately joined them. She seemed to especially enjoy the company of Tsitika’s huge sons, Blackney and Pointer.  Then, when the three A36 brothers arrived on July 17th, Scimitar joined them.  Simoom popped in for a brief visit on July 21st, as if checking up on mum, and then again on July 27th.  This time, Scimitar left with Simoom, but she came back by herself a day later and rejoined the 3 brothers, making us think she felt most comfortable in the company of adult males.   Over a week passed before Simoom’s next visit, and this time, when she left, Scimitar went with her, and stayed.  Finally, on August 13th, Simoom and Scimitar came back together, side by side ahead of Simoom’s family, and they have remained together since, enjoying each other’s company once again.

It now seems clear that Scimitar has adjusted to the loss of Nimpkish, who was her closest companion for a very long time, and once again feels comfortable among the “A12” family that bears her name.  In achieving that level of comfort, it is also clear that Scimitar was assisted by other families in her community.  In resolving her situation, which probably amounted to a life crisis, Scimitar found her way home.

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