SeaWorld versus the orca Springer; the one that got away

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Springer, a young orca who was captured, released, and reunited successfully. (Photo Courtesy Leah Robinson, Orcalab Aug 16 2011)

Ten years ago Canadian and American citizens, governments, and environmental groups coordinated the rescue of an orphaned orca, Springer, and returned her to her natal pod where she continues to thrive
To mark the anniversary, celebrations are planned in Canada and the U.S.  Join in and learn more about Springer’s remarkable story, and how rescue and release of whales and dolphins can work again in the future:

Springer (also known as A73), a two-year old orphan of Canada’s Northern Resident killer whale population, appeared 10 years ago in Puget Sound near Vashon Island after becoming separated from her family. Three hundred miles from home, the little orca captured international attention and galvanized community support for a relocation effort.
Concerned about her weakening health and increasing human interactions, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), and Vancouver Aquarium mounted the first-ever orca relocation project.
“The decision to rescue Springer was not an easy one to make,” said Will Stelle, director of NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest regional office in Seattle. “There were risks and unknowns every step of the way. In the end, we were successful because we worked as a team. Community involvement and support were a key part of the project.”
Today, Springer is healthy and fully integrated with her extended family, and has returned each year to their summering grounds in Johnstone Strait.
Events include an evening celebration open to the public (registration required) at the Vancouver Aquarium on Tuesday, June 12 at 7PM; an afternoon public program at Seattle’s Alki Beach Bathhouse on Saturday, June 23 at 11 AM; and a 10th anniversary reunion at Telegraph Cove, B.C., from July 12 to 15.

But Springer’s story could have turned out  differently. Several aquariums – including SeaWorld – lobbied to have her brought into captivity, but fortunately an environmental group located legal documents  containing a 1976 agreement between SeaWorld and Washington State (a result of the Penn Cove fiasco), proving that SeaWorld is barred from participating in any capture of any orca in Washington waters.
Statistically speaking had Springer ended up at SeaWorld she may have been dead by now (according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), “At least 137 orcas have been brought into captivity from the wild since 1961. 124 are now dead, surviving an average only four years in captivity.”).
Or, like other captive whales she would have been bred far too young.
A similarly aged SeaWorld orca, Kohana (born in 2002) was impregnated at seven, and summarily rejected her calf, Adan.  She is again pregnant by her uncle, Keto, and is due to have her second calf this fall. In this video you can see her calf Adan swimming alone after he was born.

Adan has never been accepted by the other orcas, and is often placed in a tank with Morgan, the young female orca rescued in Holland and now sharing the pools at Loro Parque, Spain with other SeaWorld orcas – in spite of international efforts to return her to wild family.   Both Adan and Morgan are outcasts, unable to form bonds with the older whales.
Unlike Springer, the captive industry prevailed in Morgan’s case, and her life seems bleak when compared to the normalcy of life in the wild enjoyed by Springer. Although rumors are rife that Morgan has health issues, there has been no hard data presented to support this, nor is there proof of when such damage occurred.
Meanwhile in the wild, Springer was fostered by various older females and now spends her time with a small group, where she is often seen ‘helping’ with younger calves.
Please mark your calendar and try to attend one of these celebrations to learn more about this successful rescue and release, and to commend the people, groups, businesses, and government officials who came together to give Springer this chance to live wild and free.
For more information:  The Whale Trail

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