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Free Lolita Update 49

Lolita Update #49
Lone orca calf in Puget Sound
March 3, 2002

Dear Friends of Lolita,

We have two items for you today

A lonely orca calf from far away has taken up residence in Puget Sound, and captivity is among the options being discussed for the calf's future.


The latest Keiko update from Ocean Futures Society.


As Lolita continues her twice-daily circus act at the Seaquarium, a drama is building in her home waters. On January 14 a small, apparently lonely calf was discovered in Puget Sound near Vashon Island, just a few miles from downtown Seattle. Since the calf was first seen orca researchers from both Canada and the US have provided some details about her life history.

Based on a variety of lines of evidence, including her vocalizations, the calf has been identified as a female given ID# A73, referring to her pod and birth order. She was named "Springer," and is from the Northern Resident orca community, usually found in only northern British Columbia. She was born in the summer of 2000, but within her first year her mother died, leaving the calf with only her grandmother left alive from her immediate maternal family. We don't know the circumstances of the calf's departure from her pod, but possibly without her mother she was too weak and/or too slow to keep up with the pod, and survival demands that the pod continue on the move in search of food. Salmon, their preferred diet, tend to depart any given area once the pod begins foraging. We don't know how or why the calf found her way down to Puget Sound, since her family seldom comes as far south as Georgia Strait, several hundred miles to the north.

Recent information, including televised footage on Seattle's KING5-TV of the calf playing cat and mouse with a large salmon for about ten minutes, indicates that she is probably not going hungry, is not metabolizing her blubber as reported by some, and her health is not in a downward spiral, as speculated by some members of a scientific panel convened by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) on February 28. Reports by observers that the calf is quite healthy are consistent over the past several days. She is said to be playing with small logs, spyhopping and seems vigorous. It is perhaps not a coincidence that the pessimistic diagnosis was made in part by veterinarians and others with ties to the aquarium industry, for which the calf would provide an economic windfall if brought to any aquarium for rehabilitation. The Oregon Coast Aquarium, where Keiko was rehabilitated, has publicly agreed to accept the calf into a portion of Keiko's former quarters, if NMFS determines that capture and transport to a concrete tank are called for.

In a truly amazing coincidence, another calf, this one from the Southern Resident orca community (Lolita's family) was located in November, 2001, holding its position in northern British Columbia. In June, 2001 this calf was reported missing and presumed dead. The calf is a male, with ID# L98, also known as "Luna," and is almost a year older than Springer. L98's mother, L67, is believed to be still alive, and in fact gave birth to another calf, L100, in the fall of 2001, just two years after L98 was born. The circumstances of L98's departure from his pod are completely unknown. He is reported to be eating fish and doing well so far, and there are no intervention plans at this time.

News reports on the Vashon calf are posted on the Orca Network website (News Archives - March 2002 #vashoncalf), including the NMFS summary report, for you to post your views on the best course of action, if any, to help this little calf.


KeikoWatch February 2002
  • Plans for the 2002 Field Season
  • Action Alert -- Keiko Needs Your Help
  • New in the Gallery
  • Ocean News Top Headlines

Reporting from the field
Charles Vinick, Executive Vice President
Ocean Futures


PLANS FOR THE 2002 FIELD SEASON Since the first of the year, I have made a number of trips to Iceland to help solidify our plans for the 2002 field season. Most importantly, what I have observed during my trips to Iceland is that Keiko continues to show that he is thriving in the north Atlantic. He's very active in Klettsvik Bay, responsive and in great health. With this kind of response to his environment, our focus is naturally on the future. So far, the winter has been relatively mild. Yes, we have had our share of 80-plus knot winds and the tidal surge continues to submerge the bay net near the west cliff face, but these have become rather commonplace occurrences and they no longer daunt us. Our structures in the bay have withstood all the challenges thrown their way this winter. Although Icelandic winter is far from over, we are grateful that we have been spared the kinds of difficulties the equipment endured previously.

As we prepare for the field season, our staff team and advisors are researching how best to build upon the progress Keiko made in 2001. As you know, what we observed throughout the later stages of the summer was that Keiko initiated separation from the walk boat and the trainers. Keiko also initiated interaction with wild whales.

Based upon our experience and that of others researching Orca pods, we are learning that pod "culture" is very complex. We know that Orca remain with their family pod for life, but we also know that the pods socialize and intermingle in much larger groups. We also hypothesize that there are circumstances where young whales are adopted by a pod.

What does it take for a pod to accept a whale from another pod? Do the whales have to be related, like human cousins? How do the pod vocalization "dialects" impact this process of interaction? These are the kinds of questions that we hope to address through our field studies.

Keiko has eaten live fish. He has also eaten freshly caught herring. However, his preferred diet continues to be frozen herring. With other Orca in the wild, Keiko will need to hunt and eat live herring. Our team cannot teach these hunting skills. They will need to come from the wild whales, but we believe there is more we can do to help Keiko understand that fresh and live herring is a primary food source.

Thus, we are working on developing methodologies for increasing Keiko's consumption of fresh herring and on continuing his training on live fish feeding. We are also developing the technology to utilize acoustic arrays to facilitate the likelihood that Keiko and wild whales will socialize together.

As we embark on the 2002 field season, we know there are many challenges ahead. But, these are wonderful challenges. We know that we must be prepared for Keiko to take the incremental steps that allow him and the whales to acclimate to one another at their own pace. We need to provide him with more skills and help him attain a level of independence that can facilitate his further interaction with the wild pods.

In the coming months, we will have more to report on how our research into these opportunities is progressing and we will continue to show you how Keiko is continuing to adapt to the wild. Click here to visit Keiko's Corner online


Click here to find out more
(Webmaster Note: Dead Link)


Click here to see new photos of the Ocean Futures team
(Webmaster Note: Dead Link)


All the best, for you and for Lolita,

Much is going on to help bring Lolita home and to inform and advocate for her and her family Please consider a tax-deductible contribution to help Orca Network continue this work by clicking HERE. Thank you!

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