May 24, 2024

Brighton Journal

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An orphaned baby orca escapes from a Canadian lake after a month of trying

An orphaned baby orca escapes from a Canadian lake after a month of trying
  • Written by Nadine Youssef
  • BBC News, Toronto

Image source, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Comment on the photo, The killer whale, nicknamed Kwee-sa-hay-is, meaning brave little hunter, spent more than a month in the inlet

An orphaned orca calf that was trapped in a lake for more than a month off the coast of British Columbia has finally been released.

The killer whale had been stranded since March 23 after its mother died, prompting a massive rescue effort off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Repeated efforts to persuade her or get her to take the narrow path to open water were unsuccessful.

But on Friday, the calf was able to swim on its own thanks to the high tide.

The escape marked a happy ending for the Ehattesaht First Nation, who led the rescue effort and named the whale Kwee-sa-hay-is, meaning brave little hunter.

The two-year-old female was stuck in a tidal lagoon after her pregnant mother became stranded and later died on a sandbar. Located near the coastal village of Zeballos, the lake is located on a narrow inlet on Vancouver Island that flows into the Pacific Ocean.

“Today the Zeballos community and people everywhere are waking up to some amazing news and what can only be described as pride in the strength demonstrated by this little killer whale,” President Simon John said in a statement on Friday.

The 15-year-old mother's death was captured on video in March, and repeated attempts to save her at the time were unsuccessful.

For several weeks after her mother's death, the calf was unwilling to swim across the narrow channel and under a bridge into open water, prompting a team of First Nations community members and federal marine mammal experts to come together to work to free her.

This led to several fruitless rescue missions. In one attempt, rescuers tried to catch the killer whale and move it using a slingshot. In another case, they tried to communicate with it using recorded whale sounds to persuade it to move.

At one point, a fiddler from Nanaimo, British Columbia, tried to serenade the calf in an attempt to entice it to swim away.

Chief John said that preventive measures are now being taken to protect the calf from boats or humans in the area.

He said the focus now is on reuniting her with her family.

“Every opportunity must be provided to return her to her family with as little human interaction as possible,” Chief John said.

In a media briefing with fisheries officials and First Nations representatives, they said she was recorded making dramatic noises after leaving the lake.

“It was amazing how loud it made when it hit the deep, open water,” one said.

Officials say the young killer whale has a track record of successful hunting. It has been observed eating herring and birds while trapped in the lake.

A statement from the First Nations community said her successful escape will resonate for years to come and that it advances understanding of the connections between humans, animals and the land.

“Events like these have a deeper meaning, and the timing of her passing will be thought about, talked about and felt for generations to come,” the statement said.