Springer the orphan orca: Alki anniversary party planned

(Springer, photographed in 2002 by West Seattle-based researcher Mark Sears)
It was a wildlife drama with a happy ending, and much of it played out just outside West Seattle waters, in 2002. Now the 10th anniversary of the rescue of Springer the orphan orca will include a celebration on Alki, led by West Seattle-based advocacy/education group The Whale Trail. Read on for details!

We just received this news release:

Ten years ago, an orphaned killer whale from Canada brought scientists, government officials, tribes and concerned citizens together in a dramatic and successful rescue effort.

This summer, the rescue of Springer, also known as A73, of Canada’s Northern Resident killer whale population, will be celebrated in June and July with three events featuring first-hand accounts of Springer’s rescue and reunion with her pod, updates on the status of orca populations and scientific research, and how citizens can help in whale conservation and recovery efforts.

Events include an evening celebration open to the public (registration required) at the Vancouver Aquarium on Tuesday, June 12 at 7PM; an afternoon public program at Seattle’s Alki Beach Bathhouse on Saturday, June 23 at 11 AM; and a 10th anniversary reunion at Telegraph Cove, B.C., from July 12 to 15.

“We’ve come far in what we know about our killer whale neighbours since the rescue of Springer and her reunion with her family, but there’s so much more we have yet to learn,” said Lance Barrett-Lennard, marine mammal scientist at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Springer, a two-year old orphan, appeared 10 years ago in Puget Sound near Vashon Island after becoming separated from her family. Three hundred miles from home, the little orca captured international attention and galvanized community support for a relocation effort.

Concerned about her weakening health and increasing human interactions, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), and Vancouver Aquarium mounted the first-ever orca relocation project.

Springer was rescued near Seattle on June 12, 2002, and was rehabilitated in a holding pen in Manchester, Washington.

“The decision to rescue Springer was not an easy one to make,” said Will Stelle, director of NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest regional office in Seattle. “There were risks and unknowns every step of the way. In the end, we were successful because we worked as a team. Community involvement and support were a key part of the project.”

On July 13, Springer was transported in a donated jet catamaran from Washington to a holding pen 250 miles to the north in Johnstone Strait.

After being lowered into her holding pen in Dong Chong Bay on Hanson Island, Springer was welcomed home by Chief Bill Cranmer and other members of the Namgis Band.

Less than 24 hours later, her pod swam by the release site, and she was returned to the wild on July 14, 2002.

“Many things came together to make the reunion a success,” said John Ford, DFO marine mammal scientist. “The donation of a jet catamaran allowed us to get her home quickly. Her family showed up much sooner than anyone expected. She eventually was able to keep up with them and, by the end of the summer, she was acting like a normal whale.”

Today, Springer is healthy and fully integrated with her extended family, and has returned each year to their summering grounds in Johnstone Strait where a 4-day reunion will be held in July.

“There’s a lot of ‘magic’ in Springer’s story,” said Donna Sandstrom, director of The Whale Trail and organizer of the June 23 Seattle celebration event, which will also feature unveiling of the latest Whale Trail signs in West Seattle.

“To get her home, we had to learn how to work together. Today, we have not just one whale to save but an entire population of Southern Resident orcas. We hope Springer’s success will inspire people to become engaged with issues facing orcas today,” said Sandstrom.

For more information on the Springer 10th anniversary events, go to The Whale Trail.

3 Replies to "Springer the orphan orca: Alki anniversary party planned"

  • Alice Haury May 24, 2012 (12:38 pm)

    I have been facinated with orcas ever since my son was selected to be kissed by Kandu at the Seattle Aquarium in 1968. They are his favorite animal and is looking forward to diving with them in the San Juans this summer.

  • Donna, The Whale Trail May 25, 2012 (12:32 pm)

    Thanks for posting this, Tracy! We are planning a wonderful celebration at the Bathhouse on June 23. More details coming soon, but highlights will include a performance by a First Nations dance group who welcomed Springer the day she came home. It’s going to be a great day on Alki – hope to see you all there!

  • Lifeforce June 13, 2012 (10:18 am)

    The 10th Anniversary and The True Hero Springer

    Springer was a very lucky orca with Sea World, the Vancouver Aquarium and questionable orca protection folks being involved.

    Any Sea World attempts to “rescue” Springer by claiming that he must be put in captivity was stopped because they are banned in Washington from participating in any action to remove orca from Puget Sound as per the 1976 legal settlement after their horrible captures.

    So then the scene moved to Canada and an attempt was made by the Vancouver Aquarium to keep Springer in a sea pen at their research station near Vancouver – far from his family. They phoned Lifeforce to try to get support but Peter Hamilton, Director, told them that he thought they would find some reason to imprisoned Springer for life and this orca must be returned to his northern territory. (Note: Later there was another lone orca, “Luna”, who should have been returned to her family L pod. There was also a secret plan to send him to Marineland, Ontario.)

    Two US orca protection groups wanted Springer left in Puget Sound. One wanted human interaction with structured play (that had later contributed to the death of “Luna”) while another said let Springer die there instead of an attempt to rescue.

    Thankfully the US based, Orca Conservancy, and other true orca protection organizations moved quickly and got the location where Springer’s family travels and within days Springer was reunited. This was in spite of attempts made to exclude these activists. The rest is history in spite of any aquariums’ and misguided NGOs claims to be the heroes.

    Peter Hamilton, Lifeforce, adds, “We must remember that the Vancouver Aquarium started the captivity of orcinus orca. They hired people to harpoon and kill an orca to use as a model for a sculpture in their hallway. The orca didn’t die so was painfully towed from Saturna Island to Vancouver Harbour by the rope attached to the harpoon. They tried to feed him horsemeat, live and dead chickens, and other animals. After an 86 day ordeal he died. Then plans were made to try to capture and display orcas. This led to the capture of 68 orcas with at least 13 others drowning during the violent captures. The future of these now endangered orcas is threatened in part due to these captures that wiped out a whole generation. They lost a generation of young orcas. They now have a low birth rate and an abnormal age and sex ratio.

    Further, there have been 38 deaths of dolphins since 1964. This includes at least 9 orcas, 7 narwhals, 9 Belugas, and 13 Pacific white-sided dolphins. The Vancouver Aquarium continues to promote the capture and imprisoned of dolphins. They have belugas who they captured in Canada and Pacific white-sided dolphins from the notorious whaling country Japan. They have even promoted Sea World “Dine with Shamu” (orcas).”

    “There would be no celebration without Springer. A year after her mother had died, Springer was alone and emaciated off Seattle waters many miles from home,” stated Peter Hamilton, Lifeforce Founder, “She had the will to survive against all odds that included a possible life in captivity. Now, after all the aquarium naysayers were proven to be wrong, there is Springer who is the true hero. Springer symbolizes why the imprisonment of whales and dolphins must end!”

    For further information: Peter Hamilton, lifeforcesociety@hotmail.com


    More about Vancouver Aquarium: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Vancouver-Aquarium-is-SADquarium/125908617473141

    Help stop the Vancouver Aquarium expansion. Email the Vancouver Parks Board (pbcomment@vancouver.ca), the Vancouver Mayor and Council (mayorandcouncil@vancouver.ca) and your Federal and Provincial Politicians.

    More Pools Means More Captives with Your Tax Money!

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