Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Springer Becomes a Mother

Jul 9, 2013

Yesterday brought exciting news for orca lovers on the BC coast. A sighting near Bella Bella indicates that Springer, the famous "orphan orca," has given birth and that mother and calf are doing well.

In 2002 Springer, then less than two years old, captured the world's attention when she was discovered, alone and in poor health, down in Puget Sound near Seattle. Marine scientists decided to intervene to capture the animal, nurse her back to health, then return her to her normal stamping grounds in Johnstone Strait off the east coast of Vancouver Island. Such a wildlife rescue operation had never been attempted before; for a few months the whole world was watching.

Gil Hewlett, a marine biologist with the Vancouver Aquarium, and I wrote a book about the rescue but I'll give you the short version here. It worked. The rescue was a success, Springer rejoined her family group and now she's a mother.

The CBC Radio report of the baby sighting features an interview with Paul Spong, who was closely involved in Springer's relocation back in 2002. Spong has been sudying orcas since the 1960s when he joined the Aquarium to conduct experiments with its captive whales. Deciding that orca did not belong in captivity, he founded OrcaLab, a research facility on Hanson Island in Johnstone Strait, to observe the animals in their natural habitat and he has been carrying out this amazing work ever since.

The Springer episode highlights the research that has been going on since the 1960s on the BC coast into the life of the orca. Almost everything that is known about these fascinating animals is known because of work carried out here: by the late Michael Bigg at the Pacific Biological Research Station in Nanaimo, his associate Graeme Ellis (who took the photographs of Springer and her calf earlier this month), John Ford, Lance Barrett-Lennard, Paul Spong and others.

This small coterie of marine specialists has made scientific history here in BC.