‘Very optimistic’: Officials say it’s very likely orphaned calf will find old or new family


The last sighting of the young orca named kwiisaḥiʔis was Friday afternoon as she swam into deeper water of Esperanza Inlet south of Zeballos.

She was under the watchful eye of rescuers before literally taking off on her own.

“Her behaviour and her acoustics changed the deeper the water got. She actually sped away from the boat and moved into this Esperanza Inlet and just really took off from the group,” said Paul Cottrell a Marine Mammal Rescue expert at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

DFO, the Ehattesaht First Nation and Nuchatlaht First Nation decided not to tag her with a transmitter for tracking because of concerns around infection, so she’s now on her own, but sightings will come in to help track her whereabouts.

Officials are optimistic that after being fed seal meat she’ll now be able to feed on her own until she finds her family or another one.

“Whether it’s her family pod or it might be a related pod, or even just another Biggs pod, they’re very adaptable at adopting young animals,” said Cottrell.

However, going back to Thursday afternoon there were tense moments for those trying to rescue her.

Remarkable drone video showed how curious she was about leaving the inlet where she’d been trapped for five weeks, but she didn’t leave.

She is seen swimming right up to the entrance under a bridge as a strong current flows outward, but she turns around, unsure and maybe afraid.

It was high tide but as the water started to recede concerns for her rose.

“It was very close to the sandbar where her mother did live-strand. We were concerned she could have the same fate,” Cottrell said.

Her mother died March 23 after becoming stranded on a sandbar in Little Espinosa Inlet. It is believed she had been teaching her 2.5 year old calf how to hunt for seals.

A necropsy determined she was pregnant.

Robert John of the Nuchatlaht First Nation had been feeding the orphaned orca seal meat for over week trying to lure her to the opening.

He was worried that she might get spooked and just move back up the inlet.

“I was so worried about that, yes,” he told CHEK News. “If she went back up there we would have been back at square one.”

But she swam out on her own at 2:30 a.m. Friday, much to the relief of rescuers and the community.

“Today, Oh my goodness I was almost jumping,” said one member.

“Everybody’s prayers have been answered,” said another.

Saturday is national Marine Mammal Rescue Day and Paul Cottrell, who has been involved in numerous whale rescues up and down the coast, says this might top them all.

“It’s hard to describe. I mean, it’s been one of the best experiences of my life for sure,” he said.

kwiisaḥiʔis (Kwee-sah-hay-is) is now free and they say the rest is up to her.


Dean Stoltz

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