Scientists Will Try to Net Sick Orca in Puget Sound

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May 25, 2002  

Scientists Will Try to Net Sick Orca

Associated Press

SEATTLE -- Scientists will try to capture an ailing orphan orca that's been languishing in Puget Sound for several months and return her to her native pod in Canada, the National Marine Fisheries Service said Friday.

Fisheries service officials said that while it would be a high-risk operation, it would be best to remove the young female killer whale from the busy waters off Vashon Island as soon as possible.

After a few weeks of rehabilitation in a pen, the whale would be relocated to Johnstone Strait off Canada's Vancouver Island, the summer home of her pod. "I want to emphasize this is a first. It has never been done before," Bob Lohn, regional administrator for NMFS, said at a news conference. "We don't know what the prospects are, but we think it is worth doing."

Lohn said a team of scientists is being assembled to determine the best way to capture, treat, transport and prepare the young female for return to her pod. Although whales have been captured in the wild and placed in captivity, no one has yet captured a wild whale and reintroduced it into a pod.

No schedule has been set, he said, but officials hope to capture the whale in two or three weeks, spend another two weeks giving it medical tests and treatment, then transport it to the strait in a day if possible. The whale then would be kept in a netted-off section of a bay for about two weeks or until her native pod arrives on its annual migration south, in approximately mid- to late July.

Lohn had no cost estimate for the operation but said it could easily be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. He said NMFS may apply for federal grants to help pay the cost and turn to public-interest groups to get additional funding from private donors.

Lohn repeatedly emphasized the risk of the capture and relocation, but said it was better than leaving the whale, whose health appears to be deteriorating, in Puget Sound.

"We're really proceeding on very unknown ground," Lohn said.
 

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