Rescuers plan helicopter airlift of orca calf stranded in B.C. lagoon

Helicopter airlift of orca

UPDATE 5 p.m.

Plans are now underway to airlift a stranded killer whale calf out of a remote tidal lagoon off northern Vancouver Island in an effort to reunite the young orca with its extended family.

Fisheries Department and First Nations officials say the plans involve placing the two-year-old calf into a sling, lifting it out of the lagoon by helicopter and putting it in a holding net pen in the ocean while they wait for its family pod to be near for release.

The plan was agreed to today during a meeting between members of the Ehattesaht First Nation council, Fisheries Department officials and marine technical experts.

Ehattesaht First Nation Chief Simon John says his people have deep cultural and spiritual connections to killer whales and the nation has been receiving calls of concern and support from around the world.

Paul Cottrell, a marine mammal co-ordinator with the Fisheries Department, says the rescue could occur within days, but more likely within the next two weeks.

Rescuers have been unable to coax the young whale out of the area since its pregnant mother was stranded at low tide in the lagoon and died on March 23.

ORIGINAL 5:30 a.m.

Plans to save a killer whale calf stranded in a remote tidal lagoon off northern Vancouver Island for almost two weeks have been elevated to attempts to feed the young animal.

Federal Fisheries Department rescue team members say they will now look to observe if the orca calf will eat harbour seal remains placed at areas of the lagoon where the young killer whale is known to frequent.

Paul Cottrell, the department's Pacific region marine mammal co-ordinator, says the rescue team has yet to see the orca calf eat anything from the lagoon, though the animal was photographed with a bird in its mouth.

But he says the lagoon does offer feeding opportunities for the young orca as it is plentiful with fish.

The orca calf has been alone in the lagoon near Zeballos since last month after its pregnant mother became beached on the rocky shore at low tide and died.

Cottrell says marine mammal experts have yet to examine recent drone footage to determine the orca calf's state of health, but it appears active and shows no signs of deteriorating condition.

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