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Wayward Orphaned Orca Is Healthy and Homebound, Authorities Say

July 03, 2002|From Associated Press

SEATTLE -- An orphaned female orca has passed all medical tests and is ready to be reunited with her family in Canadian waters, a spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service said Tuesday.

"It is time for her to go home," Brian Gorman said. "She's got a ticket, her bags are packed and we're just waiting for word from the Canadians."

Gorman said U.S. researchers gave results of the orca's final battery of medical tests to their Canadian counterparts over the weekend. The animal, which was captured when she became overly friendly with boaters in Puget Sound, was found to have no communicable diseases, and other minor medical conditions have cleared up.

"She's behaving like a healthy, active young whale," Gorman said.

A spokeswoman for Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Michelle McCombs, did not immediately return a Tuesday call for comment on her agency's stance in the matter.

Gorman said Canadian researchers probably got their first look at the latest test results Tuesday, since Monday was the Canada Day holiday.

He said the fisheries service and Canadian officials have been in daily discussions about moving the 2-year-old, 1,240-pound killer whale north. Authorities hope she will rejoin her pod when it makes its annual summer visit to waters east of Vancouver Island.

She was captured by a fisheries service team June 13 and has been under close watch in a 40- by 40-foot holding pen in Clam Bay near Manchester, on the Kitsap Peninsula across Puget Sound from Seattle.

The agency decided to capture her in part because of concerns about her health.

The whale, dubbed A-73 by researchers for her order in her birth pod, was first spotted near the Vashon ferry dock in mid-January. Researchers believe her pod left her after her mother died, and she found her way into Puget Sound.

Whale activists are helping to raise money to cover capture and relocation costs, which could reach $500,000.

The whale has adjusted well to captivity, Gorman said. Since her first few days in the pen, when she ate only one or two 5-pound salmon, she has increased her daily intake to at least 40 to 50 pounds of fish.

Canadian officials have said they would not allow A-73 into their waters if there was any sign she could have communicable diseases. However, Gorman said the U.S. team has conducted an array of tests for diseases.

Canadian experts will oversee the effort to reunite A-73 with her home pod in Johnstone Strait, off Vancouver Island. Plans call for her to be held in a penned-off cove to allow her and the pod to become accustomed to each other.

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