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Springer the orphaned orca seen off B.C. coast with her own calf

Killer whale Springer and her calf, A104, continue to beat the odds. On Monday, researchers from the Vancouver Aquarium's Marine Mammal Research Program, Hakai Beach Institute, and the Marine Education and Research Society spotted killer whale Springer (A73) in the Inside Passage. Springer made international headlines when she was rescued, rehabilitated and returned to the wild in 2002. This week, she was sighted with her calf, who has now survived the critical first year of an orca's life.

CHRISTY McMILLAN/VANCOUVER AQUARIUM

An orphaned killer whale who made headlines around the world when she was reunited with her pod off the coast of British Columbia has re-appeared — with her own thriving calf in tow.

Whale researchers spotted Springer this week in the Inside Passage off B.C.'s North Coast.

"They appear to be healthy and robust ... normal in every way," Lance Barrett-Lennard from Vancouver Aquarium's Marine Mammal Research Program, wrote in an e-mail from the field. "Great stuff."

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Springer — or A73 — was two in January, 2002, when she was found in Puget Sound, near Seattle, ailing and separated from her pod of northern resident killer whales. Her mother was dead.

Unlikely to survive on her own, she was captured and confined in a huge ocean net pen for about a month while Canadian and American officials came up with a plan.

On July 13, 2002, Springer was transported by high-speed catamaran to Blackfish Sound, near Alert Bay off northern Vancouver Island, and held in a floating net pen until her pod appeared.

She is believed to be the first orca to be rescued, rehabilitated and successfully released back into the wild.

Springer and her calf — A104 — were first seen last year and the latest sighting is reassuring to biologists that the young whale has survived the most dangerous period of life for the animals.

"This sighting is great news for everyone interested in the welfare of killer whales off the west coast of North America — and will be particularly gratifying to those who were involved in the many aspects of Springer's identification, assessment, rescue, rehabilitation, transportation and release 12 years ago," Barrett-Lennard wrote to the aquarium.

The northern resident pod that remains year-round in the coastal waters of central and northern B.C. is listed as threatened in Canada.

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