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Springer the Killer Whale goes home to her family
Springer the killer whale leaps in her pen near Telegraph Cove Sunday as her caretakers look on in the background. Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press

Orphaned Orca Returns Home

BY Terri Theodore
Canadian Press
July 1 5 , 2 0 0 2

   TELEGRAPH COVE, B.C. - Springer the orphaned killer whale arrived home in Canada on Saturday after a 12-hour trip from her temporary stay in the waters near Seattle.
    Scientists who were by Springer's side on her journey in a high-speed catamaran released the baby orca into a net-pen south of this cove off the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
   John Nightingale, president of the Vancouver Aquarium, said Springer remained calm on the smooth trip home to Canada.
   "She had three times where she wiggled around, which any of us would probably do if we were laying horizontally for 12 hours," he said.
   Scientists placed some "toys" in Springer's pen, including floating scrub brushes and a log because she likes to rub on them.
   "When they put her in the pen there will be something immediately familiar that she knows," Mr. Nightingale said.
   Springer will be released into the wild when her pod comes by so she can be reunited with her family in the first such effort by scientists.
   The two-year-old orca, who has captured the affection of scientists and coastal residents from British Columbia to Washington state, is believed to have become separated from her home pod last year after her mother died.
   Springer spent some time swimming with another pod before wandering off alone last year into the busy waters near Seattle. She was moved last month to an ocean pen in Washington's Puget Sound.
   The whale will eventually be released from the net-pen if her family doesn't swim by.
   Vancouver Aquarium veterinarian David Huff, who accompanied Springer on the trip, said that even if she isn't reunited with her grandmother or a pod of her aunts, she'll be safer on her own in Canadian waters than she was in the boat-infested waters off Seattle.
   Early Saturday, biologists with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans spotted Springer's grandmother in the Johnstone Strait neighbourhood off northern Vancouver Island.
   Hours after Springer set sail from Puget Sound in a tank on the front deck of the catamaran, an official announced over the onboard public address system: "Grandma is in the Strait."
   Earlier in the journey, about 100 residents of Campbell River on Vancouver Island greeted the orca with a "Welcome Springer" sign.
   First Nations artist Ralph Wilson also offered the captain of the catamaran a carved mask as a gift.
   People in Port McNeill, B.C., near Telegraph Cove, were also waiting anxiously for Springer's arrival in a town that relies on whale watching as an important tourism draw.
   The orca was slathered in lanolin and covered with white towels to protect her from the sun while she travelled back to her home. The box was filled with water to float Springer in the sling and ensure her internal organs weren't crushed under her weight.
   She settled in quickly with the help of two or three people who were in the tank to rub and scratch her and croon assurances.
   "Young whales in general, young killer whales in particular, seem to seek out some kind of tactile reassurance," Mr. Huff said.
   The whole operation is expected to cost at least $500,000.
   Vancouver Aquarium officials are hoping donations cover most of the costs, but only $10,000 has so far been collected.

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