U.S. may help
WILDLIFE: Calf from B.C. coast pod is stranded, alone off
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
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
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
Most experts agreed the calf's
health seemed poor, according to a summary report.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
"She's in a very public location. People would want
to feed her."