Pod Sighting Raises Hopes but Not Expectations for Reunion With Brave Little Hunter

Brave Little Hunter seemed in good spirits the day of her escape. Rescuers and marine life experts followed her out of the lagoon to ensure her safety. Photo credit: Jared Towers for Bay Cetology

A group of nine killer whales was spotted on Monday in the waters off Kyuquot Sound, approximately 80 kilometers southeast of the location where a two-year-old female orca, who recently escaped from the Zeballos lagoon, has been seen.

The young orca, named kwiisahi?is or “Brave Little Hunter” by the Ehattesaht First Nation, gained international attention after managing to leave the lagoon where her pregnant mother died, through a narrow channel into Little Espinosa Inlet on April 26. The orca had been stranded in the lagoon for over a month, and rescuers had worked around the clock to coax her to open water where, hopefully, she could reunite with her relatives.

A week after her mother’s death a pod which includes Brave Little Hunter’s grandmother was sighted south of Ucluelet. But that day, even as the tide rose and rescuers mobilized, Brave Little Hunter refused to leave the lagoon. Rescuers theorized that she was grieving and reluctant to leave the place where her mother and unborn sibling perished.

Brave Little Hunter swam past the sandbank in the lagoon, where her mother beached herself and died, and under the bridge to freedom. Photo credit: Zeballos Inn

The orcas seen near Kyuquot Sound on Monday were the closest animals to be observed since the stranding. However, marine scientist Jared Towers emphasized there was no confirmation they are part of Brave Little Hunter’s family–and their distance made it unlikely that the orphan and the pod would hear each other’s calls.

“They are significantly far offshore, beyond the continental shelf edge, which is a completely different environment compared to the inland waters of the inlet,” Towers explained from Alert Bay on northern Vancouver Island.

Towers recalled other instances where young orcas separated from their groups in British Columbia’s waters managed to survive independently for extended periods before eventually rejoining their families. He remains hopeful yet cautious. “We have done everything we can, and now we can only be patient and see what unfolds for her in her current location,” he said.

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