Orphan Killer Whale A73 (Springer)
In 2002, a juvenile female killer whale was observed alone in Puget Sound, Washington. NOAA Fisheries and our partners worked together to rescue this orphaned killer whale known as Springer.
A juvenile female killer whale, thought to be 18-24 months old, was observed January 14, 2002, in central Puget Sound in Washington State. The occurrence of a solitary animal was unusual because killer whales normally travel in tight family groups called pods. Orcas usually seen in Puget Sound consist of several pods called the Southern Residents. This whale isn't part of that population, and it is rare for an orca to be in Puget Sound during winter.
Several groups involved in killer whale research and conservation worked to identify this animal. They confirmed that she is A73 (“A” for her family group and “73” birth order) and had been on her own since the likely death of her mother sometime before summer 2001. This orca is a member of the Northern Resident population, which is typically seen in the summer about 300 miles to the north in waters between the Canadian mainland and Vancouver Island. It is unusual for a Northern Resident killer whale to be in Puget Sound.
In the sections below, learn about how NOAA Fisheries and other entities helped rescue this orphaned orca.
Rescue and Release of Orphan Killer Whale A73 (Springer)
NOAA Fisheries has responsibility for whales in the U.S. under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The agency monitored orphan orca A73 after she was located in Puget Sound and identified in early 2002. Although she had been eating, she had some medical conditions such as worms and a skin rash. NOAA Fisheries, in consultation with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, convened a panel of independent whale scientists to advise on what actions would be best for the health and well-being of this animal. Following behavioral monitoring and the results of medical tests, the panel recommended that A73 be rescued, rehabilitated, and relocated to Canadian waters.
NOAA Fisheries announced on May 24 that it would attempt to rescue A73. In addition to her health conditions, she had become increasingly interested in people and boats. Such behavior threatened her success in the wild, and she needed to be treated for her medical conditions and moved from a busy shipping lane. NOAA Fisheries formed a rescue team of experienced and highly qualified experts, and made plans in partnership with Washington State, Canada, and the Vancouver Aquarium. NOAA Fisheries officials also opened discussions with a variety of public-interest groups. The assistance of these groups was valuable in monitoring, evaluating, and protecting the whale, and was crucial during the next weeks and months.
Seven conservation organizations established the Orphan Orca Fund to provide a single, coordinated opportunity for the public to support A73's rescue. The fund was administered by The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, Washington. To help with these efforts, and cover a portion of the costs, NOAA Fisheries made available emergency funds from the Prescott Stranding Grant Program.
The successful rescue took place June 13, 2002. A73 was moved safely to a floating net pen on Washington State's Kitsap Peninsula. She weighed 1,240 pounds and measured 11 feet in length. Veterinarians then did several tests to assess her medical condition and plan her treatment.
After a month of rehabilitation in the net pen, A73's ketosis disappeared, her skin improved, and she received medicine to eliminate her worms. She gained 112 pounds, weighing about 1,350 pounds when she was hoisted onto the transport vessel for the ride to her home waters off northern Vancouver Island on July 13, 2002.
A73 made a smooth trip up the coast to Johnstone Strait between the Canadian mainland and Vancouver Island. At Dong Chong Bay on Hanson Island she was unloaded into another net pen to recover from the trip. She recovered quickly, and appeared quite excited to be in the area. On July 14, 2002, she responded excitedly to whales from her pod swimming in the area near the net pen. Officials from the Vancouver Aquarium and Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans decided the time was right to release A73. The gate of the net pen was raised about 2:45 p.m. PDT, allowing the whale to swim free.
Since her release in 2002, Springer has been sighted multiple times with her pod. She remains healthy and has had two calves of her own, Spirit and Storm.
Chronology of Events
July 4, 2013: A35s sighted off British Columbia's central coast with Springer A73 and her new calf!
Summer 2004-2012: A73 returns again with her pod and appears to be healthy and active.
July 12, 2012: Celebrating Springer on the 10th anniversary of her rescue and release
July 14, 2007: A group of government, non-profit, and public participants got together to celebrate the five-year anniversary of A73's successful rescue in Telegraph Cove, British Columbia, near where the whale was reunited with her pod. A73 has returned each summer with her family, the A pod of Northern Resident killer whales. True to form, she made an appearance during the weekend. Many of the participants got a chance to see A73 in person during a special whale watch with Jim and Mary Borrowman of Stubbs Island Whale Watching. Other events during the weekend included a panel discussion to talk about lessons learned from the rescue, updates on A73's condition, and the future of killer whale conservation.
July 13, 2003: A73 returns with her pod.
July 14, 2002: A73 responded excitedly to whales from her pod swimming in the area near the net pen. Officials from the Vancouver Aquarium and Fisheries and Oceans Canada decided the time was right to release A73. The gate of the net pen was raised about 2:45 p.m. PDT, allowing the whale to swim free.
July 13, 2002: A73 was picked up from the net pen where she had been tested and treated for the past month. She was loaded onto a catamaran donated by Nichols Bros. Boat Builders and made a smooth trip up the coast to Johnstone Strait between the Canadian mainland and Vancouver Island. At Dong Chong Bay on Hanson Island she was unloaded into another net pen to recover from the trip. A73 recovered quickly, and appeared quite excited to be in the area.
June 13, 2002: NOAA Fisheries and its partners completed the initial rescue action. A73 was moved safely to a floating net pen at a federal facility on the west side of Puget Sound. Veterinarians assessed her medical condition and treated her. The whale soon recovered her health and gained weight. Video monitoring was an important part of making sure A73 didn't become too attached to people. The staff collecting behavioral data around the clock could watch from a remote video observation station and see what she was doing. Observations of A73 feeding on live salmon put in the pen could be done from a distance, so she wouldn't learn to associate food with people.
May 24, 2002: NOAA Fisheries announced that it would attempt to rescue A73. NOAA Fisheries formed a rescue team of experienced and highly qualified experts, and made plans in partnership with Washington State and Canadian officials. NOAA Fisheries officials also opened discussions with a variety of public-interest groups. The assistance of these groups was valuable in monitoring, evaluating and protecting the whale. Seven of them established the Orphan Orca Fund to provide a single, coordinated opportunity for the public to support A73’s rescue. To help with these efforts, and cover a portion of the costs, NOAA made available emergency funds from the Prescott Stranding Grant Program.
April-May 2002: In addition to some health concerns, A73 became increasingly interested in people and boats. Such behavior threatened her success in the wild, and she needed to be treated for her medical conditions and moved from a busy shipping lane.
Jan. 14, 2002: A73 was observed alone in Washington State's Puget Sound near Seattle.
Education and Outreach Resources
- Saving Springer Video
- Killer Whale Recovery Unit (High School)
- Saving the Southern Resident Killer Whales: A Project-Based Learning Unit for Middle School
- Partner Organizations
Environmental and Corporate Supporters
The organizations and companies listed below contributed to the rescue, rehabilitation and return of orphan orca A73 to her pod in Canada. These lists are for information purposes only, and do not indicate endorsement of the organizations, entities, their products, or any commercial enterprise.
- American Cetacean Society
- Earth Island Institute
- Friends of the San Juans
- Orca Alliance
- Orca Conservancy
- People for Puget Sound
- Project SeaWolf
- Seattle Aquarium
- The Whale Museum
Busch Entertainment - Sea World
Veterinary services & laboratory analysis
San Diego, Calif.
Cypress Island Inc.
Logistical support, rescue barge & live salmon
Diametrics Medical, Inc.
Blood Gas Analyzer
St. Paul, Minn.
The Friendly Foam Shop
Foam pad for transportation
Supplies for whale-care pen
Manson Construction Co.
Barge-mounted crane on transportation day
Nichols Bros. Boat Builders
High-speed catamaran transport
Underwater monitoring cameras for whale-care pen
Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
Six Flags Marine World
SCUBA tanks for whale-care team
West Marine Corp.
Transportation supplies & safety equipment
Woodland Park Zoo
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Monitoring cameras for whale-care pen
Woods Hole, Mass.