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Clock Is Ticking on Rescue of This Stranded Young Orca

Killer whale calf is stuck in lagoon off Vancouver Island, Canada, with its food supply dwindling
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 6, 2024 10:45 AM CDT
Clock Is Ticking on Rescue of This Stranded Young Orca
An orphaned orca calf is shown in a lagoon near Zeballos, British Columbia, on Tuesday.   (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press via AP)

Plans are underway to rescue a stranded killer whale calf out of a remote tidal lagoon off northern Vancouver Island in an effort to reunite the young female orca with its extended family, Canadian authorities said Wednesday, per the AP.

  • Stranded: Rescuers have been unable to coax the young whale, who's been eating local birds and calling out for her family, out of the area since her pregnant mother was beached at low tide in the lagoon near the town of Zeballos and died March 23. Declining tides continue to make the water at the lagoon's entrance too shallow for the calf to escape, and it also appears reluctant to swim over a sandbar at the entryway, rescuers tell the Washington Post.
  • Past attempts: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, aka the DFO, says they've tried using recordings of orca sounds, as well as long ropes with floats attached, to entice the orca calf, all to no avail, per KOMO. Ehattesaht First Nation Chief Simon John tells the Post that rescuers have also tried coaxing the orca "to follow a group of canoes as people beat Indigenous drums—a method John says has worked in the past."
  • Challenges: The juvenile killer whale, given a name by local First Nations residents that means "brave little hunter," is seeing its food sources dwindle in the isolated body of water, per the Post. "Time is not on our side," Paul Cottrell, a marine mammal coordinator with the DFO, told reporters on Thursday. Making things more challenging is the lagoon's remote location, which the DFO says makes communication challenging.
  • Strategy: Officials from Canada's fisheries agency and First Nations reps said the plan involves placing the 2-year-old calf into a sling, then into a frame that will hold her as she's taken by truck to the coast, where she'll be placed in a netted pen in the ocean to wait for her family pod to come closer before release, John says. Another option is to use a helicopter to airlift the orca out of the lagoon. The young orca's family was spotted nearby on Sunday, headed toward the lagoon.
  • Timeline: Cottrell said the rescue could occur within days, but it will more likely take place within the next two weeks, per the AP.
(More orca stories.)

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