Ehattesaht First Nation launches GoFundMe to recoup costs of orca calf rescue efforts

CHEK

The remote Ehattesaht First Nation, located in northern Vancouver Island, has launched an online fundraiser looking for support in rescuing an orca calf that’s been stranded in a lagoon for nearly a month.

The orca, now named kʷiisaḥiʔis (kwee-sa-hay-is), or Brave Little Hunter, became trapped in the remote lagoon on March 23 after following its mother, who was believed to be hunting a seal.

Its mother, who was discovered to be pregnant, died after it became beached on the lagoon near the small Village of Zeballos – a community of around 100 people – leaving the two-year-old orca calf alone in the remote pocket of water.

Since then, members of the Ehattesaht First Nation, residents of Zeballos, and teams with the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) Marine Mammal Response group, have been trying to coerce the orca calf out of the lagoon when the tides are right – and more recently trying to capture and lift the orca out of the water.

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A killer whale and its calf are shown in a lagoon near Zeballos, B.C. in a handout photo. A marine scientist says a necropsy performed on female killer whale that died after being stranded in a lagoon with its two-year-old orca calf off northern Vancouver Island was pregnant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jared Towers, Bay Cetology

Those efforts have come at a cost for the isolated First Nation with a population of just 500, and one that was already fragile – in February 2023 declaring a state of emergency after losing six young people to overdoses in just a few months.

On Thursday, the Nation launched its GoFundMe, with a goal of raising $500,000 to help cover the ongoing rescue efforts and costs.

The online fundraiser is calling on the federal and provincial governments to pitch in on the funding, as well as anyone who is interested in the rescue.

The Nation says it has been feeding and housing the DFO team that has arrived to help rescue the orca, but that costs are adding up, particularly because it is expensive to bring resources up to the remote community.

“We don’t know when it will end and we can’t turn our backs on our kʷiisaḥiʔis,” reads part of the GoFundMe.

“Our Nation has called on all of its partners and they have been limitless in their response and we have been overwhelmed by the offers of equipment and ideas from around the world,” the GoFundMe adds. “But mobilization like this takes dozens of professionals, people and time. We have to keep everyone fed and housed and our community is small and isolated with limited options.”

The Nation adds that “everything is expensive here and we can no longer carry all of the burden,” and that while it will continue to house and feed the crews who are on site, it is looking for help maintaining its budget.

On Thursday, Fisheries and Oceans wouldn’t comment on the cost of the operation, or if the Ehattesaht First Nation would be reimbursed for any of the costs it has incurred.

The story of Brave Little Hunter has captured national, and international, attention.

An American whale-catcher says crews should try to build a rapport with the animal to help entice into a net or sling, at which point it can be pulled out of the water.

Meanwhile, a Nanaimo woman has taken her violin on the road and is serenading the orca calf in hopes of luring it out of the lagoon.

With files from CHEK’s Skye Ryan

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