Today is World Orca Day! On July 14th, we celebrate and focus on campaigns, films, awards, conservation efforts, and everything else about orca, also known as killer whales. This specific date was chosen to commemorate the successful release of an orca named Springer back in the wild, in British Columbia (BC), Canada, in 2002.
Springer, officially named A73, is a member of the northern resident orca community that frequents the waters off the northern part of Vancouver Island, BC, every summer. In 2002, Springer’s mother died and she was discovered alone and emaciated off the waters of Seattle, Washington, some 250 miles south. Luckily, orca populations along the eastern North Pacific coastline have been extensively studied since the pioneering work of Michael Bigg in the early 1970s.
Orcas can be found in all oceans and belong to regional ecological groups called “ecotypes”. Each ecotype can be told apart as they have distinct color patterns, morphology, behavior, diet, ranges, and genetics. Springer belongs to the “resident” ecotype. These orcas are larger than the “transient” or “offshore” ecotypes also found in the eastern North Pacific. The tip of residents’ dorsal fin is also rounded and curves backward in females. Their dorsal saddle may also contain some black. Thanks to photographs of her eye and saddle patch, as well as her distinctive vocal calls, experts were able to determine which pod Springer belonged to and that her mother was Sutlej (A45).
In June 2012, a decision was made by the United States National Fisheries Service or NMFS, after months of public debate, to capture Springer and attempt to reunite her with her pod. After being treated for medical conditions and given extra food, she was released near her relatives in July. The following year, she was sighted in July returning to Johnstone Strait with the A-clan orcas (her close relatives).
As of 2013, Springer has been sighted with her pod in Johnstone Strait. In July 2013, she was also observed with a new calf, which is very exciting. The release of Springer in the wild after human intervention is a real success story. Being able to see orcas, and other marine mammals in the wild, is priceless. Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) believes that cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) are highly intelligent animals and should not be kept in captivity for the purpose of entertainment. Click here to find out more about PWF campaign to keep dolphins free in the wild.