Canada: Springer's found a friend

23rd Jul 2002 Story: www.canada.com

Springer, the orphaned killer whale attempting to reunite with her family, appears to have found a friend.

Lance Barrett-Lennard, a scientist with the Vancouver Aquarium, said Friday Springer has been spending time with 60 or 70 whales belonging to A pod, the same group scientists believe Springer belongs to.

While hanging out on the Robson Bight rubbing beaches -- a shallow area in the Johnstone Strait frequented by whales who go for a good scratch -- Springer was swimming side-by-side with a 16-year-old orphaned female named A51.

Barrett-Lennard said the two would make good companions.

Springer's scientific name is A73. The letter denotes the whale's pod and the number of its birth order.

The large group of whales left the Robson Bight area later Thursday evening and was reported Friday morning near Campbell River, B.C.

"We don't know for sure if A73 is with the larger group heading west, but we believe it's possible and given that the group was not moving fast, she should have been able to keep up," Barrett-Lennard said in an update on the Vancouver Aquarium's Web site.

While Barrett-Lennard is staying in the isolated area off Vancouver Island's northern tip to monitor Springer's progress, the president of the Vancouver Aquarium is calling on the federal government to come up with an emergency fund to pay for marine mammal rescues.

"One, of course, cannot prudently plan for or budget for things like whales that have to be rescued in the middle of a budget year," said John Nightingale.

He said the idea of a fund is being discussed with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Springer's plight has been covered internationally.

The two-year old has spent most of the past year in the busy waters near Seattle far from home. She's believed to have ended up there after becoming lost when her mother died.

She was moved by catamaran last weekend to Telegraph Cove, off Vancouver Island's northern tip, and was quickly released when her family pod came into the area.

It's the first-ever attempt by researchers to reunite an orphaned whale with its pod.

The U.S. portion of the mission was covered by a federal fund established for such purposes, but Canada doesn't have such a thing.

The total cost of the mission is expected to come out to about $800,000.

Nightingale said that although much of the equipment used in the move was donated, the mission has still blown a massive $85,000 hole in the Vancouver Aquarium's budget.

"Eventually you need some cold-hard cash in these sorts of things and it just seemed to us that maybe we could steal a better page from the Americans ... and set up a minister's fund in the event of unexpected marine mammal issues," he told radio station CKNW.

But a federal fisheries spokesman says the department doesn't have the money to help pay the costs of moving Springer, the killer whale.

Don Radford says the fisheries department has already spent a lot of money on staff time related to the move and such things as handling licences and scientific work.

Anyone wanting to donate can find details on the aquarium's Web site .

Springer has spent the week swimming near members of A pod, but she's gotten left behind on occasions.

Scientists are concerned because she's prone to rubbing herself up against boats in the area, an indication she's overly comfortable with humans. But there have been no reports of that happening in the last two days, Barrett-Lennard said.

He and other scientists are urging boaters to stay away from the area.

Springer was fitted with three radio tags when she was released last Sunday but all have fallen off as researchers expected.

That means it's increasingly difficult to track her movements.

© Copyright 2002 Canadian Press