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Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver today.

In the huge but contained ocean lagoon that has been the trap for an orphaned orca for four weeks, the young female ate 18 kilograms of seal meat on Thursday evening.

The meal, the preferred food of Bigg’s killer whales, was likely the first time the animal had eaten so heartily and it bought the team of researchers and Indigenous members pure joy. It also bought them some time.

The young killer whale has been closely monitored since she swam into the lagoon. Her pregnant mother, who had been with her, was beached at low tide and died. Attempts to guide her out of the lagoon have failed. An attempt to catch her and to launch an elaborate plan to physically move her has also failed.

Ehattesaht First Nation Chief Simon John said the orca’s decision to eat means “it’s a good time for a rest.”

Paul Cottrell, a Fisheries Department marine mammal co-ordinator, said the rescue team may now employ a ``carrot option’' to coax the orca to a shallow end of the lagoon or perhaps even out under the bridge leading to the open ocean by using seal meat as an attractant.

Meantime, further down the coast, researchers and whale watchers are preparing for the orca’s life outside the lagoon.

Justine Hunter travelled to Tofino where operators of water taxis, fishing boats and whale-watching vessels criss-crossing the harbour going about their daily business. But all are watching the water for the orphan’s family.

Jennifer Steven and John Forde own the Whale Centre, and even as they send boatloads of whale watchers out on tours to see whatever whales they can find – usually grey whales – the guides, pilots and captains are eager to spot a particular branch of Bigg’s killer whales, the T109s. That’s the family of the orphan calf.

The hope is that if the T109 family is in the area, the freed orca orphan will find her way back to them.

Justine’s piece provides a family tree of sorts for the orca.

Unlike the southern resident killer whales, which are endangered, the Bigg’s population is relatively healthy.

The two-year-old’s large family can be traced back to a whale known affectionately to researchers as Big Mama.

“They are the exception to the rule when it comes to killer whales, they are very prolific,” said Forde, a whale researcher who has spent countless hours over the past 40 years documenting the T109 family in these waters.

Big Mama has been visiting the nautical nooks and crannies around Tofino’s complex coastline since the 1970s, and the couple have snapped thousands of photographs of her and her growing family, which currently numbers 24 living whales.

Mothers are the anchor of family structure among Bigg’s killer whales. This particular matriarch has been an exceptionally good mother, and is helping rebuild a population that is listed as threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.

Big Mama’s first-born, T109A, split off and formed her own clan, so she earned the name the Runaway. The Runaway produced at least seven calves of her own, including T109A3, the mother of the orphan calf.

Steven photographed members of the Runaway clan near Tofino on March 31, so they were tantalizingly close to the trapped orphan. But they haven’t been spotted since.

“They could be anywhere now. They could be around Haida Gwaii, or they could be around here and nobody has seen them,” she said. “They can travel 100 kilometres a day. They could be in California.”

Jared Towers is a whale researcher who has been involved in the rescue efforts to reunite the calf with her extended family. He has faith in the orphan’s family strength: He believes T109, the orphan’s great grandmother, has been successful in raising her offspring because of her superior hunting skills. Those are skills that the mothers in these family units pass on to their offspring.

After the Thursday night meal, though, everyone is back to waiting, now with a little more hope the orca can be coaxed out of her huge watery pen.

Among those hoping to help is Carol Love. When the tide is high, the military veteran from Nanaimo, B.C., plays her violin on the bridge over the narrow channel that is the pathway out.

“She was curious,” Love said.

“It came closer to me,” she said. “It absolutely did. I’m glad I got to see her today, especially if they are going to get her out.”

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief Mark Iype. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.

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