Video shows first potential sighting in months of orca calf that was stranded in Island lagoon

Video shows first potential sighting in months of orca calf that was stranded in Island lagoon
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The orca calf that captured global attention after being stranded in a Vancouver Island lagoon for more than a month is believed to have been spotted for the first time since May.

The orca calf, dubbed Kʷiisaḥiʔis, or Brave Little Hunter by the Ehattesaht First Nation, became stranded in a lagoon near Zeballos on March 23, after following its mother – who is believed to have been hunting a seal – inside.

The mother became beached and died, while Brave Little Hunter became trapped in the waters of the lagoon. She eventually swam free of the lagoon on April 26.

While orca pods were spotted in the area after Brave Little Hunter’s escape, researchers said her original family pod had not been seen nearby for some time.

Her last confirmed sighting was on May 10, and on July 4, researchers with Bay Cetology said her absence was noticed, but not necessarily dire.

“There were many unknowns around when, where and with whom she would be documented next or if she would ever be seen again,” said Bay Cetology on Thursday.

Researchers added that they “did not expect Kʷiisaḥiʔis had perished” since her body condition seemed OK during her last sighting and because she was still interested in finding prey.

“It is possible that Kʷiisaḥiʔis is travelling with any group of killer whales that have not been seen over the past few months including either of her great aunt’s groups (the T109Bs or T109Cs),” said Bay Cetology.

Researchers said it was also possible that she was bouncing between different pods, and that while it’s not uncommon for Bigg’s killer whales to adopt other orcas, it can take time for these relationships to develop, and there need to be no survival risks for existing closely related kin to adopt a new orca.

Spotted again?

Late Friday evening, Bay Cetology said there was a promising development in Brave Little Hunter’s story.

Just one day after researchers said she hadn’t been spotted in months, they received a video of a lone orca swimming in Friendly Cove, located off northwest Vancouver Island.

“It is not possible to verify the identity of the individual from the video but given the location, size, and behaviour we believe it is likely Kʷiisaḥiʔis,” said Bay Cetology.

Jared Towers, executive director of Alert Bay’s Bay Cetology, said that while the video is not completely conclusive, there are a number of circumstances that make it likely.

“Just given the location and the behaviour, it seems quite likely, and the lady was approached by the whale and the whale just had a quick look at the boat and then carried on,” he said.

“She has been known to do that. She would come up to boats, not very often but if there was a boat around she’d often just swim by it very closely one time and then carry on.”

Karina Halle, who recorded the video, is on a sailboat circumnavigating Vancouver Island and said she and her husband were commemorating her late father’s 85th birthday while docked at Friendly Cove when she heard a splash, which sounded like a seal.

“To my shock, I saw an eight-to-12-foot-long orca swimming alongside the boat, as if its pectoral flippers were hugging the side, the dorsal fin pointed away,” Halle said in an email. “In other words, swimming sideways so that when I looked over I saw the white patches and made eye contact.”

She said she thought it may be a porpoise because a killer whale would never get that close to a boat.

“But then I realized it was in fact a baby-juvenile orca,” Halle said. “I yelled for my husband to come up and see as it swam under the stern. I got my phone out and started recording just as it surfaced, maybe 50 to 100 feet away.”

The video of the orca can be viewed below:

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