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

South Columbia Search and Rescue called in the Nelson Search and Rescue and Kootenay Valley Helicopters to provide a long line rescue. Photo: BCSAR submitted.
Long-line rescue needed for injured hiker near Trail

Members of South Columbia and Nelson SAR and Kootenay Valley Helicopters did a long-line evacuation

A sign indicating a COVID-19 testing site is displayed inside a parking garage in West Nyack, N.Y., Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. The site was only open to students and staff of Rockland County schools in an effort to test enough people to keep the schools open for in-person learning. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
4 more deaths, 54 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

This brings the total to 66 deaths in the region

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
Castlegar Sculpturewalk 2020 – 10 Year Anniversary Sand Sculpture. (Submitted/CBT)
CBT arts and culture grant program now accepting applications

Apply through the Kootenay Columbia Cultural Alliance

Energy consultant Michèle Deluca and city building inspector Sam Ellison are researching how to account for embodied carbon when calculating a new building’s carbon footprint. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Nelson researches climate impact of embodied carbon in new buildings

Embodied carbon is the footprint of the manufacture and transport of building materials

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at B.C. legislature on the province’s mass vaccination plan for COVID-19, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
COVID-19 quarantine not an option for B.C., John Horgan says

Apres-ski parties increase risk, not interprovincial travel

Downtown Fernie is pictured after a snowfall.
Worker at Swartz Bay terminal on Monday, January 20, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Former BC Ferries employee alleges he was fired because of his race

Imraan Goondiwala has been granted a BC Human Rights Tribunal hearing

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker have been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
B.C. couple who travelled to Yukon for COVID vaccine ineligible for 2nd dose until summer

The province is ensuring those eligible to receive the vaccine get the second shot within 42 days

(File)
Mask dispute in court leaves Vancouver cop with broken leg

Man allegedly refused to put on a mask and resisted arrest

(Kraft Dinner/Twitter)
Kraft Dinner launches candy-flavoured mac and cheese just in time for Valentine’s Day

Sweet and cheesy treat will be here just in time for the cheesiest holiday of the year

Most Read