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Island man seeks orphaned orca’s family with shoreline watch

2-year-old orca stranded in Zeballos lagoon is a frequent south Island visitor

A Saanich man known for this land-based whale watching scours the shoreline daily for the family of an orphaned orca stranded in a north Island lagoon.

The female calf T109A3A is about three metres long and estimated to weigh about 700 kilograms and named kwiisahi?is, or Brave Little Hunter, by the local Ehattesaht First Nation. It’s been stuck in Little Espinosa Inlet since March 23 when its mother became trapped by the low tide and died on the rocky beach. Several human efforts have been underway since to get her out.

Local resident Gerald Graham is among the many on the lookout for her matriline, last seen in early April in Barkley Sound, south of Zeballos.

“I’m not a whale expert, but I do know something about whales and I know what the experts are saying. It’s not likely to live assuming it gets out of the lagoon there, unless it latches on to another pod, preferably her own pod,” Graham said. “I go out every day to see if I can find them.”

READ ALSO: Rescue team optimistic orphan whale can survive and thrive once she’s freed

Hearing officials were working to reunite the young orca with its family, Graham also went through his vast catalogue of videos, focusing on the transient, or Bigg’s Killer Whales.

The ideal is to reunite the orca with its family members. Altogether there are estimated to be 23 members of the extended T109 clan but alternatively any transients that could help it learn and survive.

“My own videos showed up for two sightings of the pod from last year,” Graham said.

He found footage from July 2, 2023 off Cattle point, and a series of five different locations in September 2023, following them from Haro Strait to Baynes Channel and Enterprise Channel off Cattle Point in Oak Bay and Clover Point in Victoria.

He stitched together a video and shared the composite on his YouTube channel to spread the word of what watchers could look for. The aim is to help folks, amateurs and professionals alike, identify this particular pod along their particular stretch of Pacific Northwest coastline.

READ ALSO: B.C. rescuer says ‘very short window’ to return orphan whale to its family

Up-Island, attempts to corral the young whale have failed, but the rescue team was buoyed by the fact the calf ate 18 kilograms of provided seal meat recently, believed to be its first meal in the tidal lagoon.

Video confirmation of the orca calf eating the seal meat gave the rescue team, comprised of Indigenous leaders, federal Fisheries Department specialists, veterinarians and fishing experts, more time to consider their options.

A second attempt that could involve boats, nets, divers and drones, centres on a plan to catch the calf in a large net, place her in a sling and release her in a safer ocean location.

- with files from Canadian Press.