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Trudeau non-committal on funding B.C. First Nation's orca rescue efforts

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The B.C. First Nation involved in the ongoing effort to rescue a stranded killer whale calf on Vancouver Island has asked the government for financial support – but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was non-committal when asked about the request Friday.

Several weeks into the collaborative effort to help the orphaned calf – named kʷiisaḥiʔis, or Brave Little Hunter – to escape a remote tidal lagoon near the community of Zeballos, the Ehattesaht Nation has launched an online fundraiser seeking $500,000 to recoup mounting costs.

"Since her arrival, kʷiisaḥiʔis has become part of the Ehattesaht family," the GoFundMe reads. "But our family is small and we are learning to understand our own limitations so we are asking both the federal and provincial governments to support us."

Trudeau was asked about funding the nation's efforts – which are happening in co-ordination with staff from the Vancouver Aquarium and Fisheries and Oceans Canada – during an event at the Univeristy of Victoria, but only promised the federal government would "continue to engage" with the community.

"I think we're all following this story attentively," Trudeau said. "It is heartbreaking, and we're all worried."

A contour map of the Little Espinosa Inlet, where a two-year-old female orca calf is stranded in a lagoon in an area where her pregnant mother died nearly four weeks ago, is seen during a meeting at the Ehattesaht First Nation's band office, in Zeballos, B.C., Thursday, April 18, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

The Ehattesaht Nation said the partners involved in the rescue have been "limitless in their response," and that it has been "overwhelmed by offers of equipment and ideas from around the world" – but said mounting costs are still putting a strain on its finances.

"Everything is expensive here and we can no longer carry all of the burden," the fundraiser reads. "We can give our time in being part of the crews, of feeding everyone, of housing them but as this carries on we are having to adjust our budgets and make sure that we are all in this with good intention and with a good heart."

In a statement, NDP MP Rachel Blaney, who represents the North Island-Powell River riding where the lagoon is located, called on Trudeau help the Ehattesaht fund the ongoing effort.

"Many of the First Nation communities in the region are reaching out to offer support. The prime minister should see the collaborative nature of all people in the region and commit to providing financial support," Blaney said.

There have been a number of rescue attempts since the calf and its pregnant mother – which died before it could be moved – became stranded last month.

The latest effort involves a large seine fishing vessel capable of casting a net strong enough to hold the nearly 700-kilogram calf.

With files from The Canadian Press

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