Sequim: Veterinarian home from helping to reunite young orca with her pod

SEQUIM — Imagine an orphaned child running unsupervised on a busy freeway, playing tag with cars, talking to strangers.

Pete Schroeder of Sequim, a retired veterinarian who has worked for the U.S. Navy as an expert on marine mammals and remains as a consultant to the government and various groups, says that was the situation facing a juvenile killer whale that swam close to ferries and pleasure boats near Seattle before being rehabilitated and reunited with her family in Canadian waters.

Schroeder says the young female orca, officially known as A-73, rubbed on ferries docking at Fauntleroy and Vashon Island because it was lonely and curious.

Scientists use a letter designation to identify orcas by the location where family groups, or pods, live. The numerical designation signifies the order of birth.

A-73’s mother was A-45 and her grandmother was A-24. Both have died.

Winter disappearance

Pod A is migratory, living in the waters north of Vancouver Island part of the year, but disappears from view during the winter months.

“No one knows exactly where they go in the winter,” Schroeder said during an interview shortly after returning home from the project of reuniting A-73 with her pod off northern Vancouver Island.

He said part of the problem of tracking Pod A is that no one wants to follow them into the Gulf of Alaska during the winter months.

A-73 was first spotted off Vashon Island in mid-January, about the same time an adult male orca was found beached, but alive, in Dungeness Bay, near Schroeder’s backyard dock.

That orca’s mother was found dead near the mouth of the Dungeness River.

There was early speculation that A-73 and the two killer whales found in Dungeness Bay might be connected after people reported seeing three killer whales together in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Scientists now believe the mother and the male were part of a California pod.

Trapped by spit?

Schroeder believes the male’s sense of direction, like a built-in radar system, might have been confused and that it didn’t realize Dungeness Bay was enclosed by the Dungeness Spit. The male was eventually freed and was last tracked heading south along the Washington coast.

A-73, meanwhile, was developing friendly tendencies.

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The rest of this story appears in the Monday Peninsula Daily News. Click on SUBSCRIBE to get the PDN delivered to your home or office.

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