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Fisheries Department warns boaters not to disturb orphaned killer whale calf from British Columbia

ZEBALLOS, B.C. – The Department of Fisheries says it is monitoring and patrolling the marine waters off northwest Vancouver Island to ensure boat traffic does not impact an orphaned killer whale calf's ability to reunite with its extended family.

The department said in a statement Friday that it would monitor the location of the young female orca as it searches for her family in marine waters near Zeballos, British Columbia, more than 450 kilometers northwest of Victoria.

The killer whale calf, nicknamed “kwiisahi?is” or “Brave Little Hunter” by the region's Ehattesaht First Nation, left a remote tidal lagoon last Friday for the sea, where it had been trapped since March 23, after its pregnant mother arrived stranded on a rocky beach at low tide and died.

The Fisheries Ministry said Kwiisah?is' chances of meeting members of a transient pod of Bigg's killer whales to which she is related were good, but she should not continue to habituate to people or boats.

“The brave little hunter now has the chance to meet and join a passing group of Bigg,” the statement read. “Biggs pods are very adaptable and open to adopting young and we remain optimistic about their chances of survival.”

The last sighting of Bigg's killer whales from their pod was more than three weeks ago in the waters south of Zeballos near Ucluelet, B.C

“Fisheries and Oceans Canada continues to work with First Nations, whale watchers and researchers to monitor the location of Bigg’s killer whales,” the statement said. “DFO will patrol and monitor the area to ensure that no boats attempt to locate him, which will impact kwiisahi?is ability to join a passing group. The team is also monitoring the location of the young whale as they track her family using the T109A capsule.”

The Bigg's killer whale pod, of which kwiisahi?is is a part, is known to spend much of its time off the west coast of Vancouver Island, but migrates further north to Haida Gwaii and as far south as the Salish Sea near Victoria, according to this oceanographer Jared told Towers earlier.

Towers, who studies and records the movements of whale species in British Columbia's coastal waters, has been in Zeballos for weeks, participating in the rescue efforts.

The Fisheries Department said disturbing marine mammals is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Regulations and could result in fines of up to $100,000.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2024.

The Canadian Press