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Springer: The Orphaned
Killer Whale


Orphaned Killer Whale

Springer (A73) is a female member of the A4 pod of British Columbia’s northern resident community of killer whales. In 2001, when she was just two, her mother died, leaving her an orphan. Early the next year she was spotted alone near Seattle, hundreds of kilometres from the Northern B.C. region her pod calls home. Her rescue would require the expertise of those who worked regularly with marine mammals. 


Assessment & Rescue Plan

Vancouver Aquarium researcher Lance Barrett-Lennard, veterinarian Dave Huff, and Senior Vice President & Aquarium General Manager Clint Wright (previously the Aquarium's marine mammal curator), along with U.S. researcher Brad Hanson, travelled to Washington to find Springer. They found her emaciated, suffering from skin lesions and exhibiting signs of starvation. The next day, the Vancouver Aquarium submitted their rescue plan to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service.  The plan was carefully discussed by a scientific panel which decided that there was a chance that she could be reunited with her known family.

Rescue & Rehabilitation 

Television and news outlets worldwide covered Springer’s capture and transfer to a net pen near Seattle on June 13, 2002. Once there, veterinarians and biologists were able to treat her skin and health conditions. The American and Canadian governments, after considerable discussion, agreed on a disease screening protocol that would allow her to cross the international border and return to Canadian waters and, just one month after her capture, Springer was well enough to be transported by boat back to B.C.’s Dong Chong Bay, near Johnson Strait. 


Reunited With Her Family

Vancouver Aquarium oversaw the operation, led by Clint Wright and under authority of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, to bring her home and had assembled a team of professional marine mammal care specialists and veterinarians with extensive hands-on experience to ensure that she recieved the best possible care.  The journey was uneventful and she spent her first and only night in the net pen in Dong Chong Bay. The next day, on July 14, scientists gave approval for Springer to be released as members of her matriline passed by the bay. This was the first time that such a reintroduction had been attempted and the team were relieved to see that she was slowly accepted back into the group. She was sighted regularly over the next few years, and appeared to be in excellent health.

Springer's Baby

On July 4, 2013, a research technician from the Cetacean Research Program sighted now 13-year-old Springer with her first calf while conducting an annual photo survey of the whales. The sighting was cause for celebration; not only did it indicate the current good health and resilience of Springer 11 years after her heroic rescue, but it also demonstrated the power of experienced people working together for a good cause.


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