Whale researchers and First Nations have hope for orca calf near Zeballos


There is hope that an orca calf near Zeballos will be reunited with its family or adopted by another pod.

This weekend, the whale’s mother beached itself, leaving the young whale helplessly swimming close by as its mother died on land.

Researchers are saying the orca calf is moving away from Zeballos and the carcass into deeper waters where its call for its mother will be heard for kilometres underwater.

“Unfortunately, T109A3, who was a 14-year-old female, and that is the individual that died. She has a two-year-old calf, and the calf was swimming around very close to her in a deep water pool, and, so naturally, now we’re concerned about the fate of the calf,” said Jared Towers, executive director of Bay Cetology.

It was at first light Saturday morning when the mother was seen stranded on a beach. Dozens of people tried to upright the whale before the tide came in without success.

“I saw the calf swimming around right beside mom and, anyway, not a happy day,” said Stan Price, who may have been the first to spot the beached whale and reported it.

Kyle Harry sang a song to memorialize the killer whale, an animal that’s culturally significant.

“It was a thank-you to our hereditary Chiefs,” said Harry. “I sang that song to do a prayer for the whale.”

Researchers say the whales are known to beach when hunting.

“Bigg’s Killer Whales, in particular, spend a lot of time hunting in the shallows, especially when they’re hunting harbour seals, and this has resulted in live stranding events over the years,” said Towers.

“In every case where it has occurred, and the whale hasn’t rolled over, they’ve managed to swim away when the tide has come up.”

This makes the outcome in this case unusual. Now, the attention is turning to the calf. Fortunately, say researchers, it has moved to deeper waters, and its call can be heard for kilometres underwater, which gives hope for its survival.

“We’ve had a case like this on the coast in 2013 when a calf was separated from its family, and once we got it back into open water, it connected with other killer whales, and it is alive and doing very well to date so I have hope that even though this is a two-year-old that it can connect with its family,” said Towers.

When high tide happened Sunday afternoon, the dead whale’s carcass was brought off the beach for a necropsy.

First Nation members are in boats and trying to coax the calf to reunite with family.

Kendall Hanson

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