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Orca pod spotted in vicinity of orphan B.C. killer whale, but no evidence of family

A reported sighting of an orca pod off Vancouver Island near where an orphan killer whale is spending her time after escaping from a lagoon has an expert expressing caution and downplaying a possible family reunion. A two-year-old female orca calf, named kwiisahi?is, or Brave Little Hunter, by the Ehattesaht First Nation, is spotted at the Little Espinosa Inlet near Zeballos, B.C., Friday, April 19, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

ZEBALLOS, B.C. — A pod of killer whales has been spotted far offshore from the remote Vancouver Island inlet where an orphaned orca has been spending time since escaping a lagoon last month, but a member of her rescue team is downplaying the prospect of an imminent family reunion.

The sighting of a pod of nine orcas occurred Monday in waters off Kyuquot Sound, about 80 kilometres southeast of the inlet where the two-year-old female calf has been seen.

It's the closest confirmed report of orcas since the death of the calf's mother, who became stranded in the lagoon, about 450 kilometres northwest of Victoria, on March 23. The next week, a pod of their relatives was seen south of Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

But marine scientist Jared Towers said Tuesday the pod off Kyuquot Sound hasn't yet been identified as the orphaned calf's family, and they are too distant to hear her calls.

"Yes, they're just way too far away," he said in an interview from Alert Bay, northern Vancouver Island. 

"They're like offshore. They are off the continental shelf edge. It's not even the same habitat. That sighting was right on the shelf edge and that's very different from the inside of an inlet."

The young killer whale — named kwiisahi?is or Brave Little Hunter by the area's Ehattesaht First Nation — became the subject of international attention last month amid efforts to free her from the lagoon where her mother died.

The calf eluded her would-be rescuers and eventually escaped the lagoon on her own on April 26 by swimming through a narrow channel and into Little Espinosa Inlet 

Towers said there had been other instances where young orcas had lost contact with their family pods off B.C., survived on their own for long periods, before eventually reuniting with their families.

"I'm just trusting that we've done everything we can at this point and the rest is really up to her," he said. 

"She's in a great spot and it's just a matter of waiting to see what happens at this point. We just need to be patient."

— By Dirk Meissner in Victoria

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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