B.C.'s most famous killer whale has shown up in the nick of time.
Springer, the guest of honour at a reunion of scientists and whale lovers in Telegraph Cove this weekend, swam into the Gordon Channel area, north of Port Hardy, Wednesday afternoon with members of her family.
Yesterday, the seven-year-old orca was near Ripple Point in Johnstone Strait and hopes are growing that she could appear around Telegraph Cove, near Port McNeill, for her own party.
"Her timing is very exciting. Everyone is very happy," said Paul Spong, director of OrcaLab, a whale-research station on Hanson Island.
Five years ago, Springer, then a sickly orphan, was rescued from Puget Sound and carried back to Johnstone Strait, where she rejoined her family.
This weekend's reunion brings together many of the agencies involved in the experimental relocation, a joint U.S.-Canadian venture.
Springer's pod, part of the threatened northern-resident killer whales, was late returning to northern Vancouver Island waters this year.
The first boat to spot Springer was the Naiad Explorer, owned by Mackay Whale Watching of Port McNeill.
The company has been the first to spot Springer every year since her release, said senior officer Bill Mackay. "We've been very fortunate. We haven't missed one year yet," he said.
The group came swimming in from the open ocean and immediately met up with some of R Pod, who shot off to meet them.
Mackay said Springer looked "ex-tremely healthy and plump."
"She's spyhopping and tail-slapping and keeping the hell away from our boat, which is a very good thing," said Mackay, who admits he was initially skeptical about the attempt to reintroduce Springer to her family. (Spyhopping is akin to humans treading water.)
"She was a very naughty little whale for a while, making pool toys out of some of the boats."
Mackay now alerts the northern Vancouver Island whale-watching fleet as soon as Springer appears, to ensure they back off and do not encourage her to come close.
Nick Templeman of Discovery Marine Safaris Ltd. of Campbell River, who saw the whale yesterday, agreed Springer looks great. "She's out there rocking," he said.
Marilyn Joyce, marine-mammal co-ordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, will be one of the guests at the weekend reunion.
Although it's mostly a celebration, the event is also a chance to review what agencies learned during the rescue and how it can help in the future, she said.
The relocation spelled the beginning of a new era, with all agencies from two countries pooling their knowledge and working together, Joyce said. "It taught us a lot. We did what a lot of people didn't think could be done. There was so much uncertainty -- we didn't know if we could even get through it logistically."
In the end, the success was Springer's -- the operation revealed the incredible bond and cultural links between families of killer whales, Joyce said.
The urgency of the Springer situation helped the plan work, as there was no time for second guesses, she said.
Lack of that same sense of urgency in the case of Luna, the lone orca who took up residence in Nootka Sound and died last year after being sucked into the propeller of a tug, was one of the reasons relocation plans for that whale failed, she said.