Springer returns with family – July 24th 2002

Great news… Springer (A73) came back to Johnstone Strait yesterday, with other orcas! When she headed north in the middle of a crowd of orcas on July 18th, Springer was swimming close to A51 & A61, the “other” orphans. Amazingly, they managed to elude the eyes of observers further up the coast for four days – we heard no word about them at all, which we took to be good news as we knew that at least Springer hadn’t ended up getting involved with boats again. Then late yesterday morning a huge group of around 60 orcas was sighted heading back “in” near Port Hardy. The Bs were identified first, and then (from acoustics) it became clear that families from all 3 northern resident clans (A,G,R) were present. At first, no A5 groups were seen (though A4s were there) but eventually, when the whales arrived in Johnstone Strait, their calls were heard on OrcaLab’s hydrophone network & the search became more focused. Finally, researcher Lance Barrett-Leonard found a group of three orcas swimming by themselves mid-Strait off Cracroft Point. He thought they looked like A51,61&73 and moved in closer to take photos. The littlest whale turned and headed towards him, at which point Lance sped away, almost convinced that it was A73. Additionally convincing was A51’s behaviour – she turned and hurried after the little whale, bringing her back to A61 & for all the world acting like a mum towards an errant youngster. As the crowd of whales continued to the east, we listened to a wonderful chorus of sound & then heard the calls of A5s followed by a lone A4 voice at the rubbing beaches… making us feel that all might be well for Springer. Past midnight, Lance examined his photos and became convinced that he was seeing images of A73. Still cautious, he sent the photos to researcher Graeme Ellis, the keeper of the photo identification record. Graeme’s answer was YES… so we know that yesterday, Springer was indeed still swimming with A51 & 61 amidst the same great crowd of whales she left with on the 18th. It is now 10 days since Springer was released into the company of other orcas, and everything we see encourages us to believe she is feeling comfortable with them and they with her. Only time, of course, will tell us the end of Springer’s story, but today we are enormously encouraged!

Paul Spong

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