Rescue efforts delayed after orca calf starts eating seal meat, says DFO

Rescue crews say they are planning to delay their attempts to get an orca calf out of a lagoon off Vancouver Island after the calf has started eating seal meat, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) says.

The two-year-old killer whale, who has been named kʷiisaḥiʔis, has been stuck in Little Espinosa near Zeballos for almost a month after her pregnant mother was beached at low tide and died March 23.

A rescue attempt was planned for Friday, but this was called off after she ate about 18 kilograms of seal meat thrown to her late Thursday. The Ehattesaht Nation and Nuchatlaht Nation had been trying to give the whale food for the past few weeks, and this is the first time she took some.

“This decision to pause relocation efforts was informed by the fact that the killer whale consumed provided seal meat, therefore the team is adapting to this information and changing operational plans accordingly to support a successfully response,” the DFO said.

“The team will work through the weekend with this new information, collect some additional data, and adjust the approach to ensure that the health of the little one and her ability to reunite with her family is at the forefront of every decision.”

Data will be collected using night vision goggles, sound and hydrophonic recording, drone coverage, and thermal imaging.

Paul Cottrell with the Fisheries Department says they’re really happy kʷiisaḥiʔis — which means “Brave Little Hunter” — is eating, and it gives rescue crews a “carrot” option to coax her out of the lagoon, perhaps even luring her under a bridge and out to sea at high tide.

Prime minister expresses concern for trapped baby whale

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is among the Canadians waiting and watching for updates on Brave Little Hunter.

He says he wants Ottawa to keep in close contact with the Ehettesaht First Nation as they work to free the killer whale.

“I’ve ensured that Department of Fisheries and Oceans has reached out to the community, and we’re going to continue to engage with them,” he said.

Trudeau was taking questions from reporters as he attended an event at the University of Victoria Friday, where he expressed concern about the trapped animal, calling the story heartbreaking.

“I think we’re all following this story attentively,” Trudeau said.

Rescue efforts ongoing

A fishing vessel capable of casting a net strong enough to hold the nearly 700-killigram whale has now arrived in the area, the idea being to lift the calf out of the water using a special inbuilt crane-like device.

A failed attempt to rescue the animal last Friday saw crews unable to coax her into a net.

“kʷiisaḥiʔis simply decided that she is not ready to be moved. Anytime people undertake an effort like this, you have to be prepared that the animal may not want to cooperate,” a statement from the Ehattesaht First Nation said at the time.

It is now unclear when rescue attempts will resume as crews evaluate all new information as it comes in.

With files from Srushti Gangdev and The Canadian Press.

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