Rescue efforts continue for stranded orca calf — who is a female

The Department of Fisheries (DFO) and First Nations that have been involved in the rescue of an orphaned orca calf have made an interesting discovery.

The baby whale that has been trapped in a lagoon off northern Vancouver Island is female, the Department of Fisheries (DFO) has determined.

The department made the discovery using drone images, which show that Kʷiisaḥiʔis (Kwee-sa-hay-is) remains active in the lagoon.

Crews are continuing to monitor her condition, and they are planning their further rescue efforts to get her to move out to the open ocean to reunite with her pod.

That likely won’t be happening early next week, however, the DFO says.

Ehattesaht First Nation Chief Simon John says equipment for the planned rescue has started to arrive in the remote community of Zeballos, located more than 450 kilometres north of Victoria.

He says a large seine net more than 270 metres long arrived from Campbell River Thursday and is expected to be used to corral the young killer whale in a shallow area of the lagoon.

John says the rescue team is also expecting the Sunday arrival of a net pen similar to those used at B.C. salmon farms to house the young orca at a yet-to-be-determined ocean location.

He says earlier plans to use a helicopter to lift the killer whale calf out of the lagoon have been overtaken by the effort to place the young orca in a sling and move it from the lagoon to the net pen by a specially outfitted vehicle, landing craft or boat.

The DFO says it’s important that the public not get too close to Kʷiisaḥiʔis — which means “Brave Little Hunter” — in the risk that this might hamper rescue efforts.

“We understand that there is intense interest in the care and long-term health of this whale,” the DFO says in a news release.

“When the rescue team initiates the rescue operation, access to the lagoon (there is one road) will be closed to all but essential personnel.”

It says any non-authorized drones or aircraft may disturb the mammal, and anyone breaching this will be prosecuted.

“For [rescue efforts] to work, Brave Little Hunter needs a quiet and calm environment.”

The calf has been stuck in the lagoon alone for almost two weeks now, after its mother became trapped by a low tide and died on the rocky beach.

Since then, teams of experts have been on-site trying and coax the calf out while monitoring its health.

With files from Pippa Norman and The Canadian Press.

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