Sorrow and joy: summer 2013 begins

A54s new baby 2013 IMG_9971 - Version 2

We waited, and waited, then finally on July 6th the orcas came.  It was a little later than we had hoped but earlier than last year when they arrived on July 10th.  As is so often the case, one of the A1 groups entered first, this time the A30s, with Pointer (A39) leading the way and his bother Blackney (A38) a little way behind.  What a thrill it was to see them again, and then to hear their calls as they passed the Lab!   We were all beside ourselves, after so much anticipation, and for the newest among us, tears flowed.

The A30s proceeded to surprise us by turning to the west after they reached Vancouver Island, meandering up towards Telegraph Cove giving whale watchers a thrill, then turning back to the east and meandering down to the rubbing beaches for their first rub of the year.  They were here for 2 days, then left to the north.

During their visit, we strained our eyes looking for A30 (Tsitika) not hugely worried but concerned because of reports at the end of last summer that she might not be well.  We had brushed the concerns aside, looking carefully at photos of her and convincing ourselves that she was fine.  But just the same, we were anxious to see her on this first visit.  When we didn’t immediately confirm her presence, we did worry.  Our concern was overshadowed by the sight of a tiny new baby beside A54 (Minstrel) her fourth.  Early in the morning of July 77h, the A30s passed us again, heading north.  We passed the information on to DFO researcher Jared Towers, who caught up to them in Queen Charlotte Strait and had a good look.  Tsitika was not there. It was a stunning and immensely sad moment, echoing our feelings in January when we heard that Yakat (A11) Springer’s great aunty had died, and last year, the death of A12 (Scimitar).  The passing of old friends.

A few days later, our spirits were lifted by the joyous news that Springer has been sighted with a brand new baby beside her! The report was from DFO researcher Graeme Ellis, who saw her some distance to the north of us in B.C.’s central coastal waters, and came with a lovely photo that immediately became the desktop image on Helena’s computer.  Springer is now 13 years old, so her baby has come at a very normal time in the life of a female orca.  It is a further demonstration that she has adapted completely to life in her family and community since her dramatic return home following the death of her mother in 2001, which led to her becoming lost far from home.  The news came as a confirmation of scientific knowledge about orcas and their society, as well as an affirmation of the beliefs and dreams of those like ourselves who regard captive orcas like Corky and Lolita in much the same way as Springer, needing only a chance to return home in order to get there.

Springer & baby 2013 Graeme Ellis photo

Next came the A36 brothers Plumper (A37) and Kaikash (A46) who arrived in their normal manner, traveling down Blackfish Sound and through Blackney Pass into Johnstone Strait, speaking only occasionally.  It was wonderful to see and hear them again, and to know that both had survived the winter.  After a quick tour, they headed out through Blackney Pass, then came back.  Soon after they came back again, then they headed out through Blackney and left again.  It was almost as if they were checking on the scene, possibly to report their findings to others we kept hearing reports about from further to the north.

As of this writing in mid July, we are still waiting for a normal orca summer to begin.  Yesterday, we were encouraged by the news that the A5s had been sighted heading east from Scarlett Point, but we heard nothing overnight and are still waiting this morning.  Perhaps today will be the day.  We have repainted Springer’s welcome home sign, and installed a new hydrophone at Critical Point in Robson Bight.  One underwater camera is in place at “CP” and another will come soon.  We are streaming live video from surface and underwater cameras for a few hours daily, as well as the usual 24/7 streaming of audio we do from our Lab.  We have a great group of assistants, and a wonderful volunteer cook Chris who is producing fabulous meals and giving Helena a chance to do other things.  Our group is being very patient while waiting, and our audience from around the world is being patient too.

We are ready.

by Paul Spong

July 18 2013




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