I was down at the Vancouver Aquarium this week for an event celebrating the tenth anniversary of The Return of Springer.
You may recall Springer, the young orca found all on its lonesome in Puget Sound near Seattle late in 2001. Scientists discovered that the young whale belonged with the northern resident orcas which frequent the top end of Johnstone Strait each summer. In other words, she was a Canadian. With the help of marine mammal experts in the US, a team from the Aquarium took Springer into custody, fattened her up, then transported her by boat back across the border to Hanson Island near Telegraph Cove on northern Vancouver Island. Once back in her home territory it wasn't long before the wayward whale reconnected with members of her family group. It was the first time a whale had ever been captured and returned to its home territory in the wild.
Along with Gil Hewlett, a marine scientist now retired from the Aquarium, I wrote a book about these events titled Operation Orca. The book explains the history of orca research on the coast and also tells the story of Luna, a second "orphan" whale, whose attempted relocation ended on a much sadder note.
The book also describes the incredible transformation in the public and scientific attitude toward orcas. A scant fifty years ago they were thought to be fearsome man-eaters which it might be best to exterminate. Today they are revered as loveable, intelligent creatures, the poster animal for the Pacific Northwest.
Last week's Aquarium event brought together some of the people who played central roles in the Springer story, including filmmaker Mark Miller who screened a brief excerpt from the documentary he made about the Springer episode. The longer version plays in one of the Aquarium galleries. I urge you to take a look next time you are there.