Springer’s Matriline! Springer, Spirit, and her new calf. Photo Caitlin Birdsall, Ocean Wiese

Fifteen years ago, Springer (A-73) swam out of her holding pen in Dong Chong Bay to meet her waiting family. She had been returned to her native waters just the day before, after spending six months in Puget Sound – lost, alone, and 300 miles away from home.

In a groundbreaking effort led by NOAA Fisheries, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Vancouver Aquarium, the little whale was rescued, rehabilitated and returned to her family.

Community members played a key role in the project. After persuading NOAA that the little whale should have a chance to go home, seven nonprofit organizations formed the Orphaned Orca Fund to support the project. We became the focusing lens for community interest in the little whale, which was sky high!

NOAA let us know what they needed for Springer’s rescue. We went on the best scavenger hunt, and got it! From scuba tanks to port-a-potties to ferry passes, every business and organization we approached said “Yes” to help Springer and her team.

Fifteen years later, Springer is thriving and fully integrated with her pod. Today we joined in the happy announcement that she has had her second calf! The new calf joins its older sister Spirit, who was born in 2013.

Springer’s return is the only successful orca reunion in history. It serves as precedent – orcas can go home again! And as inspiration.

  • To get the little whale home, we had to learn how to work together  – as individuals and organizations, across agencies, states and nations.
  • We had a shared and clear vision of success, and expert project managers who steered us towards it.
  • Above all, we put Springer’s best interest first. Every decision was made to maximize the chance that Springer would be successfully returned to her pod mid-summer.

Humans did everything they could to give Springer a chance at success. The rest was up to the whales.

  • Early in the morning of July 14th, Springer heard northern resident orcas again for the first time. After an initial burst of excited calls that almost drowned them out, Springer settled into a back and forth with them. Their calls went on for hours.
  • The next day, sooner than anyone would have dared dream, Springer’s grandmother, aunts and cousins came to pick her up. Springer swam out to greet them, stopping only to pluck one last salmon from the pen.

We’ll be telling this part of Springer’s story and many more remembrances next weekend in Telegraph Cove, where the project team is reuniting to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Springer’s return. Join us if you can!

I was so inspired by Springer’s success that I left a career in software to found The Whale Trail, and to share her story. The lessons we learned from getting Springer home light the way forward to recovering the southern resident orcas, and addressing so many other issues of our time: Work together. Be accountable. Risk trust. In how you treat each other, lead with your faith, not your fear.

Happy Springer Day, everyone!

Springer and Spirit, photo courtesy DFO