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U.S. may help orphan whale
WILDLIFE: Calf from B.C. coast pod is stranded, alone off Seattle

Associated Press
Jan 21/02

    SEATTLE - For weeks now, an orphan killer whale has been hanging around central, Puget Sound - about 400 kilometres from her only known family member in Canada - and experts are worried she might not survive.
    This time of year there's not much for her to eat, and scientists and whale advocates are concerned about the health of the calf, first spotted Jan. 14. Last week, the National Marine Fisheries Service convened a panel of experts to discuss what to do.
   The options: let nature take its course, or catch her in a net pen, check her health and try to take her to her family off British Columbia's Vancouver Island or to a commercial site such as Sea World.
    The orphan, born in 2000, is called A73 for her birth order in Canada's A-pod. She was identified through photographs of her black-and-white pattern and recordings that confirmed she uses the northern population's dialect.
    Most experts agreed the calf's health seemed poor, according to a summary report.
    While she generally seems "bright, alert and responsive," veterinarians noted the smell of ketone - like alcohol - on her breath, which suggests she is beginning to digest her own blubber.
    According to Canadian researchers, her mother, A45, is dead. The calf was apparently left behind by her pod, where her only known relative was a grandmother. Researchers monitor the pods to track the population.
    Last year, she was seen by Canadian researchers with a female from a different pod, said the summary report by the marine fisheries service.
   Now she's alone - and lonely.
   "She's starved for attention," said Fred Felleman of the Orca Conservancy. "This is highly undesirable. The less contact with people the better if she's to be returned to the wild."
   The experts - veterinarians and biologists from state, federal and Canadian agencies and the. private sector - have reached no consensus about what to do, NMFS spokesman Brian Gorman said.
   Mr. Gorman said his agency will likely decide whether to intervene over the next week. He called the decision "a very thorny one."
   Captivity is not a popular option. The Puget Sound orca population has never quite recovered from the hunts of the 1970s, when 57 were trapped to become captive performers, leaving just 70 behind.
   The population grew to 99 by 1995, but is now back down to 80, according to the Center for Whale Research at Friday Harbor.
There were mixed feelings about intervention, which some feared could lead to dependency on humans.
   And there were doubts about whether her pod would take her back.
    Local advocacy groups have struggled with the issue. "The last scenario that any of us want ... is putting this whale in a tank," said Mike Harris of the Orca Conservancy.
   If the three- to 3.5-metrelong youngster's health is declining - which new tests should help determine - most oppose leaving her to fend for herself.
   But "as long as she appears healthy, we should let her be," said Joe Olson with the Seattle chapter of the American Cetacean Society.
   If she's starving, which he considers unlikely - "she does know how to fish; otherwise, she'd be dead by now" - Mr. Olson would support nursing her back to health in a net pen and trying to restore her to her own pod.
   "It's speculation to say she's been abandoned," he said.
   Strangely, a solitary orphan male from the San Juan Islands population has been spotted on the west side of Vancouver Island. A single displaced calf is unusual.
   Two from different pods is quite bizarre, Mr. Harris said. If the female calf is ailing, letting nature take its course "realistically is not an option," Mr. Gorman said.
   "She's in a very public location. People would want to feed her."

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