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

This BC Hydro map shows some of the power outages across Northern BC. Many were caused by high winds. (BC Hydro Website)
Power out across much of Northern BC

BC Hydro anticipates some may be without power overnight

Administering naloxone to a person experiencing a benzo-related overdose event won’t help. Naloxone is used to neutralize opioids. (Jenna Hauck/The Progress file photo)
Northern Health warning drug users of potential benzo contamination

The drug does not respond to naloxone, and is being included in street drugs

The food hub survey showed that over 61 per cent respondents were looking to expand their business. (Priyanka Ketkar photo/Lakes District News)
RDBN’s food hub survey highlights producers’ needs

The project team to set up further discussion sessions with producers this year

Marianne and Peter Giesbrecht of the Vanderhoof Tim Horton’s donated $4306 to the St. John Hospital Auxiliary Society. “The funds were raised through the efforts of the 2020 Tim Horton’s ‘Smile Cookie’ campaign and graciously donated to the St. John Auxiliary towards the purchase of Panda IRES (baby warmer) for the hospital. What a great way to finish of 2020!” as stated in a social media post by the hospital auxiliary group. (St. John Hospital Auxiliary Society/Facebook)
Vanderhoof Tim Horton’s donates to St. John Hospital Auxiliary Society

Marianne and Peter Giesbrecht of the Vanderhoof Tim Horton’s donated $4306 to… Continue reading

File photo
Ongoing petition for an accessible homeless shelter in Vanderhoof

The petition is addressed to Mayor Gerry Thiessen

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.
One in five tests in Fernie area coming back positive: doctor

Dr Ron Clark of Elk Valley Hospital said one in five tests was returning positive for COVID-19

Throughout December, RCMP conducted CounterAttack road checks as police worked to keep roads free of impaired drivers. (BLACK PRESS file photo)
From the “You can’t make this stuff up” file – stories from the BC CounterAttack campaign

Amusing, yes, but a reminder impaired driving affects ability to drive and to make good decisions

(Thesendboys/Instagram)
Video of man doing backflip off Vancouver bridge draws police condemnation

Group says in Instagram story that they ‘don’t do it for the clout’

Inspection of bridge crossing on a B.C. forest service road. (B.C. Forest Practices Board)
B.C. falling behind in maintenance of forest service roads

Auditor finds nearly half of bridges overdue for repair

(Black Press Media files)
Woman steals bottles of wine after brandishing stun baton in New Westminster

Police say the female suspect was wearing a beige trench coat with fur lining

Stand up paddleboarder Christie Jamieson is humbled to her knees as a pod of transient orcas put on a dramatic show on Jan. 19 in the Ucluelet Harbour. (Nora O’Malley photo)
UPDATED WITH VIDEO: Vancouver Island paddle boarder surrounded by pod of orcas

“My whole body is still shaking. I don’t even know what to do with this energy.”

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canadian malls, conference centres, hotels offer up space for COVID vaccination centres

Commercial real estate association REALPAC said that a similar initiative was seeing success in the U.K.

Most Read