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Call Of The Wild

Springer, the orphan orca who wandered into busy Puget Sound last winter, was released Sunday in the waters off this remote Canadian island to join other killer whales.

Before her release, the female, 2-year-old killer whale tried to look over a safety net on her holding pen and called loudly to the 20 to 30 members of her birth pod as they passed by Sunday morning, her caretakers said.

"You got the impression they were being kind of coy. Killer whales are very cautious animals," said Lance Barrett-Lennard of the Vancouver Aquarium.

As the scientists prepared to lower the netting, Springer - whose more formal name is A-73, for her position in the birth order in her whale pod - grabbed a passing salmon and munched away.

"Her calls were so loud they practically blew our earphones off," Barrett-Lennard said.

Then, after pausing to play with some kelp, she swam out of the bay Sunday with the pod, heading west as the others headed east, he said, but they were still within hearing range of each other.

"We're not sure what will happen next but there are lots of salmon in the area now and lots of killer whales," said Barrett-Lennard.

Clint Wright, vice president of operations at the Vancouver Aquarium, said it's possible the orca could end up with some other group.

"I'm pretty much euphoric. It was only her second day up here," Wright said.

Scientists had placed suction-cup transmitters on the orca and followed in a boat. Other boaters, who had clustered in the area Saturday, heeded scientists' pleas Sunday and stayed away.

"Based on what we saw (Saturday), we were quite sure that when we opened the gate, she'd go charging off, and she did," Vancouver Aquarium President John Nightingale said.

The orca was kept in the temporary pen after she arrived late Saturday on a 400-mile, 13-hour trip aboard a donated high-speed ferry. She was captured in June after spending the winter by herself in Puget Sound.

Whale experts feared the boat traffic could harm her and were concerned about her health problems, which they took care of before her release.

Killer whales, a kind of dolphin, are found in all the world's oceans. Resident pods in the inland waters of the United States and Canada are struggling with dwindling salmon runs, increasing human contact and pollution.

Hanson Island is just off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, which is northwest of Vancouver.

By Peggy Andersen

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