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

NEW CUTLINE Pacific FC fans fill the stands during a game at the former Westhills Stadium
 Starlight Developments has purchased the naming rights from the City of Langford for the next 10 years.(Gazette file photo)

Pacific FC slid into third place in the league after defeating FC Edmonton 1-0 at Westhills Stadium on Saturday. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)
Langford sells stadium naming rights for $500,000 to Starlight Developments

10-year sponsorship deal largest in the history of Langford, says mayor

Construction was temporarily halted at Colwood’s Royal Bay on Monday, Jan. 18, after crews hit a natural gas line just before 9 a.m. (Black Press Media file photo)
No danger to public after gas leak in Colwood’s Royal Bay

Construction crews hit natural gas line just before 9 a.m.

A 45-metre tall call tower is proposed for Westhills Stadium. (Black Press Media file photo)
New cell tower proposed for Westhills Stadium in Langford

Tower will increase capacity in congested network: staff report

The new Malahat Skywalk is expected to be completed by this summer. (Submitted graphic)
Malahat Skywalk expected to be complete by this summer

$15-million project will see 650-metre elevated wooden pathway constructed

An Oak Bay Police officer handed out five tickets for “fail to obey stop sign” and two tickets for using a cell phone while driving, all within two hours at King George Terrace on Jan. 11. (Oak Bay Police Twitter)
Man confronts unmasked group at Oak Bay Marina

Oak Bay police issue plenty of tickets in short King George Terrace visit

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

Gin, one of the Kantymirs’ two sheep. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
Sheep start up ATV, sit in cars and go for walks in Salmon Arm

Until they bought two sheep, Ken and Karleen Kantymir didin’t realize just how social the animals are

(Black Press Media file photo)
From arts to environment, nominate your West Shore hero

Nominations for the Goldstream Gazette’s Local Hero awards are open to Jan. 15

Heather Lucier, a pastor at Kelowna Harvest Fellowship, speaks to an RCMP officer outside of Harvest Ministries on Sunday, Jan. 10. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna church fined 2nd time for violating public health order

Harvest Ministries in Kelowna has previously said they will fight the tickets in court

Mount Arrowsmith. Three skiers were rescued from the south side of the mountain on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021 with one woman taken to hospital in Comox. (Nancy Randall photo)
Injured skier among three rescued in the dark from Mount Arrowsmith

‘It was a very bad, very precarious spot to be able to locate them’

Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons was appointed to the NDP cabinet as minister of social development and poverty reduction after the October 2020 B.C. election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. job training fund increased for developmentally disabled

COVID-19 has affected 1,100 ‘precariously employed’ people

B.C. driver’s licence and identity cards incorporate medical services, but the passport option for land crossings is being phased out. (B.C. government)
B.C. abandons border ID cards built into driver’s licence

$35 option costing ICBC millions as demand dwindles

Submitted photo of Town Park C Block apartment fire.
Apartment fire in Port Hardy forces residents to jump from building

‘Multiple people were transported to the hospital with injuries from falling’

sdf
2nd in-school violence incident in Mission, B.C, ends in arrest

RCMP notified of local Instagram page with videos (now deleted) showing student assaults, bullying

Most Read