Dear Friends of Lolita,
Our report for this update is not from Miami, but from the opposite corner of the continent. Luna has died in Nootka Sound, BC.
A death in the family
March 10 was a sad day for all of us who have been following Luna's story and hoping for a much happier ending. At around 9 am, in Nootka Sound, B.C., Luna approached a 104' tugboat that had pulled into a cove, idling, to get out of rough seas. As in recent reports from Mike Parfit, Luna commonly approached the wash of props, and was apparently sucked in to the props of the tug. Though Luna had been around many tugs, this was a larger tug than he was accustomed to. It is believed he died instantly, and his body apparently sank, though fisheries staff headed to the scene to look for evidence.
We mourned Luna's death when he first went missing and was presumed dead in June 2001 (never before had a resident orca gone missing and showed up again, with or without its pod). Luna was always special to us, because we had met him shortly after his birth in September 1999. During a short visit to San Juan Island, just before we had to leave, L67 swam by the Center for Whale Research with her new little calf, L98/Luna, swimming along behind her - we were all so surprised & excited - it was almost as if she was bringing him by to show him off!
Luna's story was full of little mysteries from the very beginning - when L67 swam by with her new calf, she was alone, L pod was nowhere to be seen. Later in the day she had rejoined L pod, and K pod was around as well - but then the new calf showed up with a K pod whale (K 18) instead of L67. For a week or two, researchers wondered just who L98 really belonged to, as he was seen often with K18 rather than his mom.
Then he ended up back with his mom, L67, and seemed to be a normal little guy, staying with mom and his pod until his disappearance in 2001. It has been speculated that maybe he strayed from L pod when his uncle, L39, disappeared - the theory being the uncle was dying and fell behind the pod, and Luna stayed with him, losing track of the rest of the pod, then wandering up to Nootka Sound alone. No one really knows for sure, but we know that adult males and their young nephews often travel together for long periods. And we know that Luna's mom sometimes strayed away from him, even on the day he was born. However it happened, he was a lost soul, apart from his family, looking for attention and companionship in the people he met in his new chosen home.
He was discovered in Nootka Sound in July 2001, and his presence was made public by Canada's Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in late January, 2002. We remember that day so clearly - as we had mourned the loss of this special little whale when he disappeared, we now celebrated with great joy the miracle of his "re-birth!" Then came the many ups and downs of his life in Nootka Sound: the belief of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation that Luna embodied the spirit of their deceased Chief Ambrose Maquinna and should never be captured, the attempts to keep Luna away from people and boats, and the attempts to keep people and boats away from Luna, the making of plans to relocate him, the fear that marine parks were lurking by to take him in, the attempted capture and relocation of Luna by DFO and NOAA Fisheries, the interception of Luna during the capture attempts by the First Nations people who didn't want Luna captured, and the stories of all who provided monitoring and stewardship in Gold River and Nootka Sound over the last five years, trying to keep Luna safe from people, and people safe from the growing orca's inquisitive approaches.
We are especially thankful to Mike Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm of Mountainside Films for their amazing dedication at monitoring and observing Luna from a safe distance, and reporting on his behavior and his welfare in a very heartfelt way. Their regular reports on Luna have helped us understand a bit more about Luna's life in Nootka Sound, and we all came to know and love him even more through their eyes and words. We also appreciate the efforts of the folks at ReuniteLuna.com, all those who worked on the various stewardship projects during Luna's stay in Nootka Sound, and all who worked on the LunaLive project, attempting to set up a system of listening in to Luna and listening for L pod in the hopes of facilitating a natural reunion. Volumes of photographic and acoustic records will help tell his story for years to come.
We will always remember Luna as a special little whale, who touched many hearts around the world and gave a personal face and story to the plight of his family, the endangered Southern Resident orcas who share our Salish Sea waters. He was one of our own. We can only hope he is now again swimming alongside his uncle L39, wherever their spirits reside~