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A Tale of Two Whales: Keiko and Springer

Tom Banse
07/11/2002

Tomorrow (Friday) is moving day for Springer, the orphan orca captured in Puget Sound last month. The young killer whale is going back to Canada in a tank mounted over the stern of a high-speed ferry. Next, scientists hope to reunite the wayward whale with her family pod. In some ways this story resembles an earlier effort to reunite Keiko -- the movie star whale -- with his kin in Iceland. That hasn't worked out so far. Correspondent Tom Banse reports on whether Keiko's experience bodes well for Springer.

REMEMBER KEIKO, THE KILLER WHALE STAR OF THE FREE WILLY MOVIE SERIES? IN REAL LIFE, KEIKO WAS SET FREE. DONATIONS PAID FOR REHABILITATION AT THE OREGON COAST AQUARIUM AND THEN A LONG FLIGHT HOME TO ICELAND. FOR THE THIRD SUMMER IN A ROW NOW, KEIKO'S TRAINERS ARE TRYING TO ENTICE THE WHALE TO REJOIN ITS WILD KIN IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC. PROJECT DIRECTOR CHARLES VINICK SAYS KEIKO ENCOUNTERED WILD WHALES JUST THIS WEEK.

Vinick: "He's surrounded by a lot of them. He's facing them. There's a lot of vocalization. He's listening. His head is down. He's pointed toward them. They have come by him. He's come by them. There have not been any immediate interactions, but certainly he's in the environment with them."

BUT AT THE END OF THE DAY, KEIKO STILL RETURNS TO HUMAN COMPANY AND STILL PREFERS FROZEN HERRING OVER LIVE SALMON. NOW SWITCH FROM THE NORTH ATLANTIC TO THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST. MANY OF THE SAME PEOPLE WHO WORKED TO FREE KEIKO HAVE ADOPTED ANOTHER ISOLATED, SICKLY ORCA, 'SPRINGER.'

Sound: [Springer squeaks, thrashing in water]

RESCUE TEAM LEADER JEFF FOSTER SAYS HE'S APPLYING EXPERIENCE GAINED FROM KEIKO TO PREPARE SPRINGER FOR RELEASE AND A POSSIBLE FAMILY REUNION. BUT FOSTER SAYS THE SIMILARITIES STOP THERE.

Foster: "Keiko was probably the least likely candidate for release because of his history in a captive environment. He's been in a captive situation for most of his life and was taken away from his family at a very young age."

SPRINGER ON THE OTHER HAND IS AN "IDEAL" CANDIDATE FOR REUNIFICATION ACCORDING TO FOSTER. SHE'S YOUNG, ADAPTABLE, AND HAS SPENT ALL OF HER SHORT LIFE IN THE WILD. THE FACTS ALSO GIVE VANCOUVER AQUARIUM VETERINARIAN LANCE BARRETT-LENNARD REASON FOR HOPE.

Barrett-Lennard: "She's quite different from Keiko. We're considerably more optimistic that this effort will be a success than was the case with Keiko."

BARRETT-LENNARD ELABORATES ON THE DIFFERENCES WITH THE LOCAL WHALE HE CALLS A-73.

Barrett-Lennard: "For one thing, we know which pod A-73 belongs to. We know that with certainty."

PLUS, SCIENTISTS KNOW WHERE TO FIND THAT WHALE FAMILY. IN ICELAND, RESEARCHERS DO NOT KNOW WHICH OF THE LOCAL WHALES ARE KEIKO'S COUSINS.

Barrett-Lennard: "And also the period of human intervention with A-73 will have been short and her exposure to people throughout this operation is being minimized. She's not being encouraged in any way to develop relationships with individual people, which killer whales really do tend to do in captivity."

THE CANADIANS HAVE GIVEN THEMSELVES A GENEROUS DEFINITION OF SUCCESS. MARILYN JOYCE OF FISHERIES AND OCEANS CANADA OVERSEES THE OPERATION BEGINNING TOMORROW.

Joyce: "We're defining success that A-73 goes out into the wild and is able to live, either with her pod or independent. So I think there is a broad range of opportunity."

JOYCE SAYS ONE OF THE BIGGEST UNKNOWS IN THIS OPERATION IS WHETHER SPRINGER WANTS TO GO HOME AND REJOIN HER GRANDMOTHER AND AUNTS. YOU CAN'T ASK THE ORPHAN, OR FOR THAT MATTER, KEIKO ABOUT HIS FUTURE. THE REVERSE IS ALSO TRUE IN BOTH CASES. NO ONE KNOWS WHETHER THE TIGHT-KNIT WHALE FAMILIES WILL TAKE BACK A LONG-LOST RELATIVE. IF NOTHING ELSE, THESE WHALE PROJECTS WILL YIELD NEW INFORMATION ABOUT THE SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND RULES OF ORCA PODS. I'M TOM BANSE IN SEATTLE.

04.24.18

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