Midsummer (A69) with her days-old baby, entering the Broughton Archipelago via Fife Sound, for her first time. (Jared Towers photo)

Orca pod returns to the Broughton Archipelago for first time in more than 20 years

The A5 pod brought a new calf to their former Broughton Archipelago winter hunting area

After more than 20 years a celebrated orca family has ventured back into an old haunt near the North Island.

The A5 pod has returned to the Broughton Archipelago, their traditional winter hunting ground, with a brand new baby in tow. They had still spent time around the North Island in places like Blackfish Sound and the Johnstone Strait, but avoided going further north into the archipelago and the long inlets on the mainland.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans researcher, Jared Towers was trailing them on Jan. 5 through waters south of the archipelago when the family of nine, led by 40-year-old matriarch Ripple (officially A43) swam up Fife Sound, a place she would have visited as a youngster.

Towers quickly called Alexandra Morton, who moved to the area in 1984 specifically to study the A5 pod. The pod owned the Broughton Archipelago at the time, Morton says. Other whales would come and go, but it really belonged to the A5s.

So when Towers told her they were back, Morton was thrilled.

“I was worried that they might have forgotten, that only I knew, and that this knowledge was stuck in a human.”

Ripple was just a teen when she was last in the Broughton, and Morton joked that maybe she wasn’t watching where they were going. The matriarchs are the ones who lead orca pods and are in charge of remembering their routes, and it seems Ripple was learning well.

She brought her family back with her youngest grand-calf jumping alongside its mother, Midsummer (A69), who Ripple birthed in 1997. Both mother and baby look healthy, Towers said.

This pod was raided a number of times in the 1970s as orcas were captured for aquariums. Only one of the captured whales is still alive. Corky is Ripple’s older sister, and lives in SeaWorld in San Diego.

READ MORE: ‘I definitely cried’: Mother orca that carried her dead calf for 17 days gives birth again

READ MORE: “We can do better” — humans the leading cause of orca deaths: study

Towers said the A5 pod stopped coming to that area around 1995 when a fish farm company started using acoustic harassment devices to deter seals. The fish farming industry questions the connection, but the family did not return, despite the acoustic deterrents being silenced in 1997.

“They didn’t know it would chase the whales away, but it did. DFO very quickly prohibited them when they realized,” Morton said. It had been an effort to not shoot seals, but it led to a greater understanding of how sensitive whales are to sounds.

Orcas are vocal creatures. Their communication is so sophisticated that each family has a distinct dialect. The seal deterrent device pulsed out 198 decibels of sound — the equivalent of a jet engine.

“I had a hydrophone going into my house, so I was listening 24/7. Weeks went and then months went by and then years went by and they never came back.”

Until now. No one has established why, but Morton and Towers welcome the return.

“It’s a sign of healing that they have decided its safe to go back in there,” Morton said.

Towers, who’s says he’s spent more time than anyone in the world with the northern resident orca population — a group of 300 whales of which A5 is one pod — loved observing this pod in an old-new surrounding.

“Seeing a family take this newest pod member into the traditional feeding grounds for the first known time in decades brought a well-needed sense of hope to start the new year,” he said.

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Midsummer (A69) with her days-old baby, entering the Broughton Archipelago via Fife Sound, for her first time. (Jared Towers photo)

Just Posted

Interior Health reported 79 new cases of COVID-19 and two new death in the region Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)
79 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths reported in Interior Health

Both of Friday’s deaths were both recorded at long-term care homes

Big White Village on Dec. 16. (Big White photo)
11 more COVID-19 cases linked to Big White cluster

Interior Health provided an update on the cluster on Friday

Administrative headquarters for the Regional District of Central Okanagan in Kelowna. (File photo)
Tempers fly over a pricey picnic shelter in the North Westside

Lack of detail on $121,000 shelter expenditure further incites self-governance wishes

Preliminary designs of the new West Kelowna city hall, which is about to begin the design phase. (City of West Kelowna)
West Kelowna to choose architect for design of new city hall, library

The project is projected to cost $18M by the time it is completed in winter, 2022

(Pixabay photo)
Black Press Weekly Roundup: Top headlines of the week

In case you missed it, here’s what made waves throughout the week

Sunnybank in Oliver. (Google Maps)
Sunnybank long-term care in Oliver reports third COVID-19 death

The facility currently has an outbreak with 35 cases attached to it

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Kamloops’ Royal Inland Hospital surgical unit

Despite 6 South being a surgical unit, RIH said surgeries are continuing at the hospital

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

After a Vernon resident tried to domesticate a pair of gopher snakes, BC Conservation Service reminded that it is against the law to keep wild animals in one’s possession. (Yuval Levy/Unsplash)
Wild gopher snakes aren’t pets: Vernon conservation officer

After resident kept two gopher snakes in home, conservation reminds it’s illegal to domesticate wildlife

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Most Read