Ten years later, Vancouver aquarium celebrates release of Springer, the orphaned killer whale

Springer rescued near Seattle in 2002.Photo Credit Robert Wood (Small)
Springer rescued near Seattle in 2002.Photo Credit Robert Wood (Small)

Ten years ago, Springer (A73), an orphaned killer whale from Canada, brought together scientists, government officials, advocacy groups, and concerned citizens in a dramatic and moving rescue effort.

Vancouver Aquarium played an integral role in Springer’s successful rescue, rehabilitation, and reintroduction back into the wild – the first orca recovery effort of its kind.

Last evening, the Vancouver Aquarium and whale conservation partners from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Orphaned Orca Fund, and Orca Lab celebrated the 10th anniversary of Springer’s successful rescue and recovery, and how far she’s come since then. The celebration included first-hand accounts from several individuals who played key roles in Springer’s rescue and rehabilitation.

“Springer’s rescue 10 years ago, and where she is today, is a representation of how far along we’ve come in our understanding and research of killer whales,” said Lance Barrett-Lennard, marine mammal research scientist at the Vancouver Aquarium who took part in recovery efforts. “Although there is still so much to learn, Springer’s rescue brought to life the impact humans can have on the conservation of these endangered animals.”

Springer of Canada’s Northern resident killer whale population was a two-year old orphan separated from her family at the time she was found in Puget Sound near Vashon Island. Three hundred miles from home, the little orca captured international attention and galvanized community support for a relocation effort.

Concerned about her weakening health and increasing human interactions, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, DFO, and the Aquarium mounted the first-ever orca relocation project. Springer was rescued near Seattle on June 12, 2002, and was rehabilitated in a holding pen in Manchester, Washington. One month later, on July 13, Springer was transported from Washington to a holding pen in Johnstone Strait. On July 14 she was returned to the wild to reunite with her pod as it swam by the release site.

Since then, the Aquarium and its partners have monitored Springer’s whereabouts and well-being. Today Springer is in good health and is fully integrated with other wild killer whales, demonstrating both the resiliency of her species and the power of people working together for a good cause.

The ongoing monitoring of Springer’s health and safety is one small part of much larger research efforts that take place at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Cetacean Research Lab, which is committed to supporting cetacean conservation. These research efforts are supported in part by the Vancouver Aquarium Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program, which has funded groundbreaking research that has helped to protect the killer whale population and its habitat since 1992. This year, the adoption program celebrates its 20th anniversary in supporting killer whale research and conservation. Wild killer whales can be adopted at www.killerwhale.org.

In addition to last evening’s celebration at the Vancouver Aquarium, the 10th anniversary of Springer’s rescue will also be honoured at an afternoon public program at Seattle’s Alki Beach Bathhouse on Saturday, June 23 at 11 a.m., and a reunion at Telegraph Cove, B.C. from July 12 to 15. 

Vancouver Aquarium Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program

The Vancouver Aquarium Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program raises funds to support groundbreaking research that helps protect the killer whale population and its habitat. Adopt a wild killer whale at www.killerwhale.org