Ferries Concerned Orphaned Orca Swimming Too Close For Comfort

Ferries Concerned Orphaned Orca Swimming Too Close For Comfort
PUGET SOUND - There are new worries for the orphaned orca swimming in Puget Sound.

The killer whale is swimming dangerously close to Washington State ferries. That's unusual behavior and she may get hurt.

The ferry lane between West Seattle and Vashon is the orphaned orca's playground, and that's making the ferry system very nervous.

Videotape taken within the last week shows the orca, nicknamed "Springer", within feet of a ferry at the Vashon terminal. She was playing with a log, completely unaffected by the ferry horn or the moving boat.

"She's just getting closer to the vessel and really making it all that more dangerous," says Washington State Ferry System spokeswoman Pat Patterson, "not only for herself but also for our crew and passengers."

In fact, the ferry system says several times in the past few days, it's had to back down and maneuver around the baby orca. It's particularly bad near the Vashon Ferry terminal where Springer pops up unexpectedly -- and particularly bad near the ferry Evergreen State.

"At night apparently, we've had reports that she's nestling up to the Evergreen State," says Patterson. "The Evergreen State ties up after service and we have had reports that she will nestle up to it."

But ferries aren't the only boats Springer is causing trouble around. Her well-known penchant for playing with logs could also be dangerous.

"Now we've also seen situations out there where she's pulled logs," reports Bob Wood of Project SeaWolf, who have spent many days watching Springer. "She's sunk those logs down, 10 feet, and let them go, right underneath our boat!"

Wood says his boat's kevlar hull can take the force, but could a fiberglass boat or a kayak?

"This whale isn't intentionally trying to harm anyone but she's becoming a nuisance from the standpoint that she could harm someone by just playing."

For the time being, the National Marine Fisheries Service has no plans to intervene. But both Project SeaWolf and the ferry system hope the orphaned orca can be moved back to her native Canada soon.

Patterson adds, "It's just a real recipe for an accident that nobody wants to see happen and certainly not us."

And with the sound of something straight out of a Disney movie, the ferry system is offering its help to take advantage of Springer's attraction to the ferry Evergreen State to return the orphan to Canada. They want to try a test run, sailing the ferry to the north to see if Springer will follow. If she does, the thinking goes that may be one way to eventually get her back to her family pod.