Orphaned Orca Calf Trapped In Lagoon For Over A Month Is Finally Free

An orphaned orca calf previously trapped in a Canadian lagoon is free after more than a month.

The 2-year-old female is known as kʷiisaḥiʔis, which translates roughly to “Brave Little Hunter” in the language of the Ehattesaht First Nation.

She became stuck in a tidal lagoon on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island on March 23, after her pregnant mother beached at low tide and died. The killer whale calf could be seen swimming in circles in the shallow water nearby, calling out.

The Ehattesaht Nation described her cries as “sorrowful,” adding, “as they go unanswered, your heart sinks,” per The Guardian.

First Nation members, Canada fisheries officials, scientists and other experts worked to get the calf free for weeks, the CBC reported. Their unsuccessful attempts included playing recorded orca sounds to nudge her in the right direction, using boats to herd her out of the lagoon and even trying to catch her with a sling.

Last week, rescuers were able to get the calf to eat seal meat chunks they had thrown into the water, buying some time for the orca, who they feared was becoming malnourished.

The animal swam out of the lagoon of her own volition early Friday, though The Guardian noted that in the hours before her escape, rescuers had been luring her in the direction the bottleneck that ultimately allowed her to exit.

“At 2:30 AM during the high tide on a clear and glass calm, star filled night, kʷiisaḥiʔis swam past the sand bar her mother passed away on, under the bridge, down Little Espinosa Inlet and onto Esperanza all on her own,” the Ehattesaht Nation wrote on an official Facebook page, which shared a video about the happy news.

The Ehattesaht Nation said rescuers will “encourage” her through the inlet towards the open ocean.

Once she’s back in open water, the young orca’s biggest hurdle will be finding her pod. Two-year-old orcas are typically still “very dependent” on their mothers and family groups, Vancouver Aquarium director of mammal health Martin Haulena told the CBC. However, he said, if the orca is able to reunite with her pod, he is “very sure” they’ll take her back in.

In the meantime, wildlife officials and first nation members are asking the public to steer clear of the area in order to give the calf her best shot at going home, Ehattesaht Chief Simon John said in a statement to The Associated Press.

“Every opportunity needs to be afforded to have her back with her family with as little human interaction as possible,” he said.