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Ailing, Orphaned Orca Captured

June 14, 2002|From Associated Press

OFF VASHON ISLAND, Wash. — Orca experts on Thursday captured an orphaned 2-year-old female whose growing coziness with humans had raised fears she could injure herself or capsize a small boat.

The 1,200-pound killer whale--known to be infected with worms and a skin condition--approached capture boats on her own, and crew members acclimated her to their presence by scratching and petting her for at least half an hour. Finally, a crew member looped a rope around her tail and she was guided into a sling, then hoisted by crane onto a 65-foot powered barge.

She appeared to offer little resistance after some initial splashing when the rope was looped. She was released into a nearby net pen.

"It went very smoothly," said Lynne Barre, an observer and fisheries biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "We saw very little splashing. She seemed to be under control very quickly."

The operation was led by Jeff Foster of Auburn, who has caught and tagged orcas for the Norwegian government and assisted in the as-yet unsuccessful effort to return long-captive adult killer whale Keiko--star of the movie "Free Willy"--to the wild near Iceland.

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