A killer whale pod related to an orphan orca calf that escaped a remote British Columbia tidal lagoon last month have been spotted off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island.

Marine scientist Jared Towers said in a social media post he was surprised to see members of the calf's great grandmother's pod near Alert Bay.

Towers, an expert in identifying whales by their distinct individual markings, said he saw the T109 pod swim out of Pearse Pass near Alert Bay on Monday, but the female calf named kwiisahi?is or Brave Little Hunter by the Ehattesaht First Nation was not with them.

"This is kwiisahi?is's great grandmother's pod and although she wasn't with them, the good news is she hasn't been seen since May 10 (as far as I'm aware) which means she is probably on the move," he said in the social media post. "What is for sure is that we gave this Brave Little Hunter the best chances possible and now all we can do is take ID photos to see where, when and with whom, and if she shows up."

Alert Bay is about 100 kilometres north of Zeballos, near Esperanza Inlet where kwiisahi?is was last reportedly seen earlier this month, after she swam free of the lagoon where she had been trapped for weeks after her pregnant mother became stranded and died on March 23.

But by sea, the distance is much greater, hundreds of kilometres around the top of Vancouver Island.

Zeballos is located more than 450 kilometres northwest of Victoria.

Towers, who could not be reached for comment, said there are previous cases of lost or orphaned killer whale calves reuniting with their extended families or being adopted by other orcas, but it takes time and is not guaranteed.

Earlier this month, a pod of nine orcas was sighted in waters off Kyuquot Sound, about 80 kilometres southeast of Esperanza Inlet.

Towers said the orca pod spotted on May 8 was not identified as family members and was too distant to hear the orphan killer whale's calls.

The young orca became the subject of international headlines in late March amid efforts to free her from the lagoon where her mother died.

The calf eluded several rescue efforts and last month eventually swam out of the lagoon on her own through a narrow channel and out to the inlet leading to the open ocean.

Before Monday's sighting, members of kwiisahi?is's family were last seen on March 31 south of Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Towers said earlier the Alert Bay whale research group Bay Cetology offered access to its online AI-assisted photo database to local photographers and tour operators as part of efforts to track the orphan orca's relatives.

Towers, who is Bay Cetology's executive director, said the technology scans photos of killer whales submitted by those on the water and can quickly identify individual animals based on their dorsal fins and markings.

He said scientists have been able to identify specific animals based on their fins for more than 50 years, and using AI is the next advancement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2024.