Dramatic New Rescue Plans for Whale

Dramatic New Rescue Plans for Whale »Play Video
PUGET SOUND - There are dramatic new plans to rescue an orphaned orca in Puget Sound. It would keep the orca out of aquarium tanks and re-unite her with her family pod in Canada.

One of the problems is that no one really knows how well or how poorly the orca is doing.

So beginning Thursday, orca experts will be on the water near Vashon Island where the killer whale hangs out. They'll be watching her from dawn to dusk, keeping track of her health.

Nick-named Springer, the orca designated as A-73 has been stuck in Puget Sound nearly two months.

Orphaned and unable to keep up with her orca family, experts agree she is not getting enough to eat and belongs back in Canada. "Whether this is some kind of terrible danger or whether it's just a little indication of a problem, we don't know for sure," says National Marine Fisheries spokesman Brian Gorman. "But we certainly know that her diet is insufficient."

Once scientists have a better idea of Springer's health, they'll look at a long-term solution.

A ground-breaking coalition of orca groups and the Vancouver Aquarium has come up with two options.

The first would take a lesson from Namu, the first killer whale captured back in 1965. A seapen, pulled by a tugboat, could move Springer back to Canadian waters. The advantage is it keeps human handling to a minimum. The disadvantage is at two knots an hour, it would take several days.

The other option comes with the help of the Canadian Coast Guard. They've offered the use of a hovercraft to take the orca home. The advantage is a fast, three-hour trip. The disadvantage is the orca would have to be captured and carried out of the water.

Either way, the coalition including Orca Conservancy, Earth Island Institute and the Vancouver Aquarium can act quickly. "We can gear up in a day or two to actually get the animal back up to B.C. where it ultimately belongs," says Fred Felleman with Orca Conservancy.

Springer has spent a lot of time off the north end of Vashon Island. The killer whale's pod will return around June to Canadian waters.

Whether the net pen or the hovercraft is used for transport it would likely take the most protected route, hugging the coastline, to get Springer back to the waters of her birth.

The National Marine Fisheries hasn't decided what to do yet, but these coalition proposals seem to be at the top of their list. "Our goal is to reunite it with it's pod," says NMFS spokesman Gorman, "and the best way to do that is to put her in a net pen, maybe treat her and then transport her to Vancouver Island."

The dawn to dusk monitoring begins Thursday and will continue for up to a week until NMFS makes a final determination on the killer whale's future.