Thursday, May 23, 2024

‘Remarkably adaptable’: Orphaned orca calf near Zeballos remains defiant of rescue attempts


Another unsuccessful attempt was made to rescue the stranded and recently orphaned orca calf near a Vancouver Island community on Saturday, April 13th. 

kʷiisaḥiʔis, also known as Brave Little Warrior, has been stuck in a lagoon near Zeballos since March 23rd when her mother was beached and died, despite efforts to save her from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the Ehattesaht First Nation and surrounding communities.

The main deterrent of getting the young calf out of the lagoon has been a sandbar which blocks the mouth of the lagoon—kʷiisaḥiʔis’ only way out of the body of water. 

During Saturday’s operation, six vessels and fifty personnel were on site for the rescue operation, including Ehattesaht First Nation, DFO and Vancouver Aquarium marine mammal rescue experts, equipment operators and ground staff.

The DFO says their plan was to coax the calf into shallow waters from the deeper parts of the lagoon she has been spending most of her time. 

From there, they would put her in a sling and transport her by truck onto a barge which would take her 19 kilometres out of the lagoon entrance and into the open ocean waters. 


The operation began at 6 a.m., but reportedly was shut down at around 12:45 p.m. because the DFO said it became clear that she would not leave the deeper parts of the lagoon. 

According to the DFO, she is incredibly intelligent and spirited for a juvenile orca. She has learned from the attempts to corral her over the last three weeks and has actively avoided capture. 

“She is remarkably adaptable to the tools and tactics we have used to date. And we should never underestimate the intelligence of these animals,” said Paul Cottrell, the DFO’s expert on marine mammal rescue. 

Despite the failed effort, the operation gave veterinarians from the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Society say it gave them an opportunity to observe the orca’s breathing and swimming. 

They determined she is in good health, has normal breathing, is swimming well and doing long dives lasting up to six to eight minutes. 

The DFO added that it is unclear if she is feeding, although food is available to her in the lagoon.

Following the latest rescue attempt, the DFO say they and their collaborators are rethinking their next steps and strategies. 

In the lagoon the orca is trapped in, weather, remoteness and tides continue to be obstacles that make timing difficult in any attempt to coax the calf out. 

More to come as the DFO continues to try to rescue kʷiisaḥiʔis. 

Curtis Blandy

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