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Celebrating Springer - Orphan Orca that Overcame the Odds

Springer was observed alone in Puget Sound with a skin condition in 2002. (Credit: NOAA, Lynne Barre)

On capture day swimmers bring Springer next to a small boat to load her into the sling. (Credit: NOAA, Lynne Barre)

Additional Resources

Springer is transported from the catamaran to a net pen in Canadian waters. (Credit NOAA, Lynne Barre)

Canadian First Nations people welcome Springer home (Credit NOAA, Lynne Barre)

Springer after her release in 2002 with A51 and A61.  (Credit: Lance Barrett-Lennard)

Photo of Springer in 2011, showing her distinct saddle patch (Credit: Lance Barrett-Lennard)  





July 12, 2012

She’s back! Springer, an orphaned killer whale calf rescued from Puget Sound and returned to her family in Canada in 2002, has been sighted again this summer.

Ten years ago, the Pacific Northwest community came together to save one small whale, who is still thriving in the wild 10 years later. NOAA Fisheries worked closely with local communities and Canadian officials in this unprecedented rescue effort to bring the young orca home. Her annual return to the waters of British Columbia serves as a reminder to everyone working on killer whale conservation, in the United States and Canada, that much can be accomplished by working together toward a common goal.

A celebration of the rescue's10th Anniversary is being held in Telegraph Cove, British Columbia July 12 - 15, 2012 This link is an external site. 

The Rescue

Alone and ailing, the small whale was first seen in Puget Sound in early 2002. A young calf on her own caused immediate concern and set local researchers on a quest to learn more. Researchers used photos of her saddle patch and dorsal fin, as well as recordings of her calls, to identify her as A73, an orphan from “A” pod, one of Canada’s Northern Resident killer whale communities. A73, also known as Springer, was far from home, separated from her family, and following a Washington State ferry around.  

Luckily for Springer, the intense interest and cooperation of concerned citizens, non-profit conservation groups, researchers, and governments made a difference for her. NOAA and Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans brought experts together to devise a plan to rescue Springer and reunite her with her Northern Resident family.  On June 13, 2002, an experienced team coaxed Springer into a sling, setting the plan into motion. A giant crane then plucked her from Puget Sound and gently lowered her into a net pen at NOAA’s Manchester Research Station.

For the next 30 days veterinarians and a rotating international animal care team looked after Springer. Her rehab program was carefully designed to keep her wild so she would not become dependent on people.

The Return

As soon as the medical team determined Springer was healthy and did not pose an infection risk to other whales, she was cleared for the trip back to Canada.  Nichols Brothers Boat Builders donated use of a high speed catamaran and Six Flags Marine World provided a transfer box.  A crane lifted Springer into place starting the next stage of her journey.

On July 13, Springer’s trip home began with a send-off, including a Tlingit Indian tribal dance and song. Ten hours later she was greeted by members of First Nations bands in Canadian waters. As she settled in, Springer was greeted once more that evening, this time by calls from members of A pod, her family. When A pod approached again on July 14, Springer was released. Researchers watched the reunion unfold over the next days and weeks. Though tentative at first, Springer was soon surrounded by members of her extended family and she stopped seeking out interactions with boats. Since this successful family reunion in 2002, Springer has returned each year to summer in British Columbia’s Johnstone Strait with A pod, including the recent sighting in 2012.

The Celebration

This summer, Springer’s rescuers are gathering at events in the United States and Canada to celebrate the 10-year anniversary, share their memories of this amazing story, and look to the future. In the past 10 years we've recognized the threats to both the Northern and Southern Resident orcas and their habitats, giving them special protection here and in Canada.

NOAA listed the Southern Residents that spend their summers in Puget Sound as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2005. Since then, the agency has engaged the public to develop and implement a comprehensive recovery program. A collaborative research program is focused on filling the data gaps that will help to answer the remaining mysteries about killer whales and the threats they face. 

The relationships forged by Springer have continued and new ones have emerged, such as the Puget Sound Partnership, a community effort of citizens, governments, tribes, scientists, and businesses working together to restore and protect Puget Sound. Springer’s story has led the way for new initiatives such as the Whale Trail, a series of land-based sites to view marine mammals and promote stewardship, and serves as the basis for interactive classroom programs in elementary schools.

The 10-year anniversary gives us an opportunity to reunite and celebrate Springer’s story, build on the good will generated by our success, and create new partnerships to work together with a common purpose—helping the killer whale species recover.

Join us in the celebration!