Orphaned orca's reunion with family celebrated

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of a very special reunion between Springer the killer whale and her pod, scientists, First Nation elders and volunteers who helped make it happen are travelling to northern Vancouver Island this weekend.

Event to mark 5th anniversary of world's first whale reunion engineered by humans

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of a very special reunion between Springer the killer whale and her pod, scientists, First Nation elders and volunteers who helped make it happen are travelling to northern Vancouver Island this weekend.

Five years ago, the young orca was reunited with her family in the world's first whale reunion engineered by humans. Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard of the Vancouver Aquarium said the reunion was the first of its kind.

"This really was the first time something like this was tried with a young orphaned whale. We knew who its pod was. We released Springer in the proximity to [its] pod when they were passing by. It was a one of a kind event really."

During the winter of 2002, the two-year-old female orca orphan was discovered swimming off the coast of Washington state in a busy shipping lane, dehydrated, starving and suffering from a parasite infection.

The friendly orca developed a dangerous habit of playing with boats, and researchers feared she would eventually be injured by a propeller.

Researchers determined that Springer, as the juvenile orca was soon nick-named, was know to scientists as A73, and had been separated from her pod near Hanson Island off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, hundreds of kilometres away.

Government officials and marine researchers eventually hatched a plan to return Springer home. She was captured, nursed back to health and transported north to her home waters. Six months later she was released to join her family nearby.

Originally, researchers were uncertain whether the reunion would be a success and whether Springer would be healthy enough to survive the winter in the open Pacific Ocean with her family.

But since 2002 Springer has been spotted frequently swimming with her family in theirsummer homeoff the northeast coast of Vancouver Island.

Five years on, Springer appears to be fully socialized back into her family, said Paul Spong, a noted whale researcher and the director of Orcalab, a small whale research station near Hanson Island.

"We don't know what the future holds for Springer but we're very encouraged by what's happened over the last five years."