Archived reports on Luna and reports on Luna's death may be found HERE
A Luna lifeline
The Luna Quilt
by Mary Bluhm
March 10, 2008
On this anniversary of Luna's tragic death, March 10, 2006 in Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island:
It has taken six months to finish - but was most certainly a labor of love, from my heart.
Hoping that, in some way, it will serve to keep alive the memory of Luna and his story....how special he was...and to remind us all that, with prompt and proper action, Luna's premature death could have been prevented.
By way of explanation:
Each square in this quilt is different from all the others - just like each of our Orca friends are individuals, resembling each other but not exactly alike.
All points in this quilt lead outward, yet also lead back to the center panel of swimming orcas. This represents the “homeward connection” to family in all of our Orca friends...they may separate into smaller groups, but always maintain their connection to family.
The center bottom square, with the small red center, represents the Orca family - with each spoke a different pattern - all pointing outward and yet all returning to meet at the red center. In the "Log Cabin" quilt pattern, historically the center of the center block is usually red - and always represents “Home”.
So now you are acquainted with my thought process in designing this quilt. The dedication wording is on the back of the quilt:
In memory of Luna - L98
A reminder to always
respect & protect
our Orca friends
Mary Bluhm, 2008
A sad farewell to Luna~
(from Mind in the Waters by Joan McIntyre, from Shaking the Pumpkin by Jerome Rothenberg)
In the very earliest time,
when both people and animals lived on earth,
a person could become an animal if he wanted to
and an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
and sometimes animals
and there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
That was the time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance
might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive
and what people wanted to happen could happen -
all you had to do was say it.
Nobody can explain this:
That's the way it was.
Film festival: Tale of orphan whale gets standing ovation
February 5, 2008 (victoria Times Colonist
) There's a great scene in Saving Luna where the endearing and outgoing orca of the title repeatedly surfaces to affectionately nudge a Department of Fisheries and Oceans official as she tries sternly to explain to boaters there's a $100,000 fine for touching the whale.
"This is not a watchable whale!" a steward says elsewhere, warning onlookers they could face fines for making eye contact with the most famous whale since Moby Dick. They were enforcing a DFO "tough love" policy deemed beneficial to Luna.
As passionate as these journalists were about Luna's story, they didn't expect to become so involved in it. The couple became advocates for human interaction, amazed by the benefits of the heart-rending bond between Luna and First Nations steward Jamie James.
Report from Nootka Sound,
March 14, 2006
Copyright 2006 by Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm
By Mike Parfit
I have no eloquence, no pretty words, no joy. But I have things to tell you, about beauty and blame.
Suzanne and I attended the Mowachaht/Muchalaht memorial ceremony on Monday. It was good. In addition to the members of the band with whom we share love and affection for this kakawin they called Tsu'xiit, the memorial was attended by Greg Rusel and Ed Thorburn, the fisheries officers who had spent so much time with Luna, and who had tried to lead him to the pen against the wishes of the band. There were handshakes between DFO and First Nation members. Ed knew Luna almost the very beginning, in late 2001, and though Ed's face did not betray him during that service, as ours did, we know his pain is huge. We can only hope that the ceremony brought him some kind of balm with which to start healing.
For us the most beautiful and difficult time happened two days before. On Saturday afternoon Suzanne and I went out on the water with Donna Schneider, the cook on the Uchuck III. Donna was Luna’s longest friend. She saw him when he first arrived, and has loved him since.
The day was clear. The sun shone. There was no longer a storm to drive ships and barges in off the open sea. We went straight from Gold River to Mooyah Bay, the place we always have called Luna’s “familiar territory” because it has been tradition not to be specific about his location.
We stopped the boat in the middle of the junction of several passages of water, between Anderson Point and Atrevida Point, if you have a chart. When I saw Luna, I usually marked his approximate locations on my GPS with electronic waypoints, which showed up on the GPS chart as little red flags. We stopped among many flags. We shut down the motor and drifted. We had all understood the news from Friday, and knew it was true. But our hearts did not believe it.
We sat in the boat, silent, each of us alone. Our own breath held, we waited for a breath to come from the sea.
None of us could speak. Little waves lapped on the hull. Sea lions barked, from far away on the log booms over in the southwest corner of Mooyah Bay. The boat’s motor cooled, making little ticks. They were not like the sound of echolocation. All three of us believed that Luna was going to make another miracle in his life and would do what we always called stealth whale. I think he had learned that boats that saw him coming tended to speed away, so he had developed this technique of approaching boats with a long, invisible, underwater swim. We believed he was already on his way to us, and would suddenly pop up right next to us with a blast of spray.
He did not. I looked across the expanse of water, as I have so many, many times. Luna was always elusive, except when he was completely in your face. You could look for an hour and make up your mind that he was not there, and your mind would populate with worries. Then, poof, there he was and things were OK again. Surely that would happen again. Surely.
No. It wouldn’t.
We had flowers with us. Slowly we began to throw them into the sea. They floated away behind us on the easterly breeze as we were carried west by the current. I had told a newspaper reporter that we would throw flowers and say goodbye. But we only managed the first part.
And whom shall we blame for this great loss? The heart weeps and the heart seethes, and the heart demands to exact a price from those who have caused it pain, in the vain hope that some kind of relief can be purchased by what the broken heart imagines is the more deserved pain of another.
In the press and on websites we have seen a pouring out of recrimination. We find that both terrible and understandable. We are often overwhelmed by waves of anger and desires to blame. Our pain at this loss is greater than we had ever imagined it would be, and the bursts of anger we feel are more intense than is in any way justified. In fact, I found to my dismay that I threw some of the flowers hard, as if hitting out at the water for withholding our friend.
I am afraid I know why I seek to find blame. Yesterday, in the middle of one of those spasms, while I was lashing out in my mind, I realized I was doing something really weird. Although my rational mind was simply seeking to find lessons in tragedy, my wrecked heart was doing something entirely different. It believed that if I could find out that someone had really done something wrong, I could take my grievance to some kind of a magical judge who would decree that because such injustice had been done we would get Luna back.
Grief is deep and complex, and I am afraid that sometime it will make me say something that will unnecessarily hurt someone who is also in pain over this loss. I may have already done so. If so, please forgive me. That is terrible. Because, when I look at it carefully and try to be honest, it comes down to something very hard for me to deal with. For all my anger at outside forces, I am as much at fault as anyone.
For those who aren't familiar with the last few months of Luna's life, I must explain. Last fall, after the First Nations stewardship ended when the funding ran out and the permit expired, Suzanne and I believed that Luna still needed attention. We took on providing that. We were not asked to do this by anyone. We took it on because, on the rational side of things, we believed it was inappropriate for us to be writing a book and doing a documentary about a being whose life was in danger, without attempting to help save that life. On the emotional side, we simply cared too much about Luna to watch tragedy unfold. We stepped in because we couldn’t help it.
As the weeks and months went by, the system worked out fairly simply. Our boat was too small for both of us, and we had a lot of work at home that had to get done. So Suzanne worked at home and I went out on the water. I fitted a desk where the second seat would be, so I could write while I was out there. I put a tarp over our leaky canvas roof so the computer wouldn’t drown. Then I spent days and nights on the water near Luna. Many of you have read the reports that came from this work.
One thing must be said now. You did not read about everything I did. I could not be altogether honest, because I was afraid that if I was I would be officially forbidden to continue. I will be honest now. I did not make a habit of playing with Luna, but on several occasions I led him away from problem encounters. Most of these were with fish farms. In the last few months he has caused damage and concern at those places, and when I came past and saw Luna engaged in that kind of activity, and then saw Luna come toward my boat, I did not speed away. I let him follow. Usually I then led him across the bay, then motored slowly up Zuciarte Channel toward the open ocean, to see if he would follow.
Usually, when I got into Zuciarte, Luna chose not to go any farther. Once, however, he followed me up Zuciarte to within two miles of open water, which I found hopeful. I had many daydreams about a reunion at the mouth of the Sound if he could just learn to headquarter out there instead of behind stone acoustic barriers in Mooyah. But after that one time he didn’t go that far again.
Once I did lead him to the sea. He was far out of Mooyah, around on the west side of Bligh Island. I had been looking for him for hours and was quite worried. Do you remember the photos of his recent breech? It was that day. I saw a spout and then the breech. What a relief it was! When he came down from the big jump he did stealth whale right over to me and started playing with the boat. I could see the edge of open water in the distance, and decided that I’d just leave the motor turned off. I drifted at about two knots all the way out to Yuquot. I was looking straight up at the lighthouse when he finally left and headed back into the Sound.
This told me that getting him to the sea regularly would not be hard. Unfortunately I felt that I had so pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in leading him out those two times that I did not seriously try it again. Now I wish I had done differently. But there are many wishes.
The point of all this is that I found it extraordinarily easy to get him out of troublesome situations. Although I didn’t do this very often, I knew how straightforward and effective it could be.
One of those events included an incident that occurred starting about 11 p.m. one night, in which he was out in the middle of a very active log-loading operation, and was playing around a big tug much like the one whose prop killed him.
Luna was very determined to hang out with these powerful boats. He loved the energy of their work, and he would pursue them far across the bay when they showed up. I even think that on several occasions I heard him call exactly when the first distant sounds of their engines murmured into the waters of the bay. Was he welcoming their presence? Who knows? I never worried about these big boats, because he loved them so much and because he seemed to be so agile in his movement around them. We marveled at his precision in moving around everything in the water, including props.
I have learned from a newspaper article that the crew of the General Jackson sometimes played with Luna, and I am very concerned that people may imagine wrongly that this is why he was with that boat to begin with. I can say with certainty that it was not. It was the boat's energy that drew him. Even when no one paid attention to him all day, he would work with these boats, pushing logs, playing in the wakes, going underneath to feel energy blasting from the props. The crew did not attract him to the General Jackson; the boat did.
That's what was happening on the night I remember. Luna was having a great time in the frothy water. But what concerned me in the case of the loading operation was the logs. Luna would sometimes show up underneath the area where cranes were picking up logs and hoisting them into the barge, and I knew that Luna would not be able to get out of the way if a log fell from a crane. So, when Luna zipped over to my boat shortly after midnight, I thought, "I'm going to get him out of here." I motored slowly away and he followed. I took him all the way out into the middle of the junction of passages opposite Anderson Point. He didn’t go back to the tug until it was towing the barge away and there were no more logs to fall from the sky.
The point of all this is that I know I might have been able to head off the accident that killed him. After all, I was the guy who had taken on keeping him safe. I knew how to do it, and had done it before, and was concerned about the risks. And I had made a commitment to our own hopes for Luna. I had also made at least a moral commitment to all of you who have read our reports and had your own hopes for a long life for this boisterous sweetheart whom Lisa Larsson, in her grief, calls our brave little whale. Though I was constrained by law from doing all that I wanted to do for Luna, I had promised that I would be around to give Luna help when he needed it, and was willing to bend the law when necessary to get that job done. I was the one on watch.
But on the day that mattered, I wasn’t there. I had tied up the boat and had gone down to our home near Victoria for a few days. There were things we had to get done at home and I thought it was going to be more important to be around all the time later in the season. There are few sadder words to me right now than these: I wasn’t there.
So I am as much to blame as anyone. What was happening elsewhere in the Luna world at the time was OK and hopeful. DFO was talking to both the First Nations and the Gold River community about plans to take care of Luna during the summer. Our own proposals and those of several others were still on the table and we had indications that some successful combination of approaches would have been undertaken. So the process was working, though slowly.
What happened was not a consequence of big things. It was a fluke, an accident. In that case, only individuals who might have prevented it are to blame. The skipper and crew of the tug are not in that category, because they could have done nothing anyway. Again and again I've seen how close Luna goes to props. The crew could not have kept him away. But I do fit the category. He could have been with me instead.
Many friends have assured me that I should not take blame. And I know that in many ways, this kind of guilt is self-absorbed and is a distorted form of vanity. To imagine that I, above others, had the wisdom and power to have prevented this catastrophe is, in fact, claiming more competence than in fact I had. But the bottom line for my heart is that I will never get over these what ifs.
I think that in learning to accept whatever blame is legitimately mine, and in shedding the vanity of taking on too much, I find that I cannot escape my pain by laying blame on others. The reality of this tragedy is that it was a specific event, an accident, which had no direct cause in policy or negligence. It could have happened anywhere at any time, even after a reunion. I can absorb some of the blame, because it indeed happened on my watch. Beyond that, blame is just guesswork and slander and unworthy of the character of the loved one we have lost.
We can surely seek lessons, as Fred Felleman has done so calmly in his essay. And we have to accept that we all share responsibility here. We all cared, but we failed to find agreement, and we failed to learn what Luna really needed. We just failed. But we have to accept also that one of the costs of freedom is risk, and Luna was free and took risks. Could we have lessened those risks? Perhaps. But wherever he was we could not have eliminated them, even by taking away his freedom, where a different set of risks would have come into play. You can lock your child in the bedroom away from fast cars, but then he dies of loneliness or the flu you bring him.
I'm sure assessments will be made. But after we're done with crying and guilt and anger and lessons, none of which will solve our sorrow, we can get on with the more important stuff: remembering one who will always be good and beautiful and utterly blameless: Luna.
On Saturday afternoon at just about sunset, Suzanne, Donna, and I threw our last flowers on the water. We were gentle with the last ones. They all drifted away, and we could no longer see them. The moon began to gather strength in the darkening sky. We had flung flowers, but none of us felt closure. We still expected stealth whale. We always will expect him, on whatever water, and I am sure he will come to us like that in our dreams, a breath from the sea to give us back our joy.
Thank you for reading our words here from time to time, and for loving this whale. We must ask one another for forgiveness, then get on with living. But please, always remember the brave little whale we knew as L-98, Luna, and Tsu’xiit. Think of him flinging himself from the water in that exuberance of life that he always seemed to have, and making a splash you could hear all the way across the bay, and around the world. What a survivor he was! Bereft, solitary, inexperienced, desperately young, he nevertheless forged a worthy life. We will remember that for a very long time. May we be worthy of him.
Learning from Luna
Fred Felleman, MSc.
March 14, 2006
So many people contributed time and resources on the lone orca (L98) Luna’s behalf that his loss is widely felt. As a whale biologist and photographer I have tried to minimize the impact of my presence on my focus of study and have only encouraged intervening with nature during a few extraordinary circumstances. This was one of them.
When whales strand themselves, people make heroic efforts to guide them back into the water. The stranding of the Transient orcas on Dungeness Spit was one such successful occasion. When Springer (A73) was found sick in the Vashon ferry lanes, the public rallied for her successful reunion with her family to Johnstone Strait.
It is easy to point fingers for why we were not able to afford Luna a similar opportunity, but the following insights are simply offered to try to make sense of some hard lessons. There was disagreement between the various official and unofficial trustees of Luna as to whether to intervene on his behalf in the first place. While Canadian Fisheries officials (DFO) came to Washington with great interest in Springer’s precarious position in Puget Sound, they initially kept Luna’s solitary existence in Nootka Sound a secret. Once the word was out there was still disagreement as to what to do about him.
The successful repatriation of Springer included the positive engagement of the Namgis First Nation welcoming her back to native waters. Unfortunately, due to a long simmering conflict between DFO and First Nations in Nootka Sound over the sighting of salmon pens and treaty negotiations, such communications were not forthcoming. In fact, I was in contact with Chief Maquinna through an introduction afforded me by his Makah cousins before DFO contacted him about what they intended to do about Luna. During my meeting with the hereditary chief at his campsite on Friendly Cove overlooking the Pacific, he made it clear that any efforts to reunite Luna with his family should be done in a way that afforded the whale the ability to swim freely and that he not end up in an aquarium. While he favored “letting nature take its course” he expressed a willingness to allow Luna to follow a boat out of Nootka Sound to reunite with his family.
There were many potential benefits associated with giving Luna such a chance in addition to those to him personally. Returning a whale to the endangered southern resident community was one given the potential for Luna’s disappearance being associated with an inexperienced mother and his obvious capability of meeting his own physical needs. Alternatively there was the possibility that he was intentionally abandoned and that we were simply watching the “hostile forces of nature” at work. However, after 30 years of study, such behavior had not been observed before and we could only offer the opportunity for reunion, the rest was up to the whales.
There was the protection to the boating public in Nootka Sound. However, NMFS officials expressed concern that we would be bringing the problem to Washington waters rather than assume the whale would prefer his kin over people. They required that a satellite tag be bolted through his fin as if he would be hard to find if he continued making mischief with boats. While the tag posed potential physical impacts to Luna, it also required that he be kept in a net pen for extended periods while he was fitted. Such excessive handling of Luna and holding a healthy whale captive for over two weeks was a major source of antagonism to Chief Maquinna and many in the environmental community. It was important to draw a blood sample to verify that he did not pose a health risk to his family, but it was hoped that could have been done while Luna was still free swimming giving his inclination to approach boats.
In preparing to lead Luna out of Nootka Sound efforts were redoubled to try to track the fall to spring movements of L Pod which was a goal of the NMFS orca recovery efforts. The US Navy even provided several sightings of orcas along Vancouver Island. Extraordinary efforts were made to acoustically monitor Luna’s calls that streamed briefly on the web. It was also hoped that having a joint “project” would help DFO and NMFS put down some of their professional differences while rallying to Luna’s assistance. There was also the potential for the whale huggers and the aquarium industry to work together after so many years of distrust over the early capture operations. Unfortunately, documents surfaced indicating that the aquarium industry had agreed to undertake the reunion efforts for DFO as long as they had the first dibs on Luna if he did not successfully repatriate. This opened the door for the appearance of conflicts of interest and questions were being asked about who makes the determination as to whether the reunion was a success and if Luna had to be captured.
Whether you preferred a “hard capture” or a “boat follow” it appears that DFO would have been better off starting with the less invasive approach as a show of good faith to the First Nations that they were willing to try working with their concerns. Considering such an approach after being thwarted from their preferred alternative by the First Nations only seemed to embolden their distrust. If First Nations were asked to help lead Luna out prior to their demonstrated ability to engage him with their canoe to thwart the capture, perhaps DFO would have opened a working relationship that could have resulted in a less tragic outcome.
The most important lesson to learn is that while we admire the intelligence and prowess of orca, they are vulnerable mammals just like us and we all make mistakes. Luna’s plight can be broadly blamed on a failure of governance. DFO did not have the benefit of the Prescott stranding funds that were used by NMFS to help Springer and NMFS was restricted to only using those monies in US waters. Instead DFO was reliant on the aquarium industry to manage Luna and their vets were more comfortable treating Luna as a patient than a wild whale. Underlying all this was the strained relations between DFO and First Nations. While they did establish a science advisory panel to receive input from representatives on both sides of the border, it was clear their input was not fully embraced.
Managing an endangered population of free-swimming, large brained mammals across an international border is not an easy task. Add to that the complexity associated with the co-management authority Treaty Tribes have in the United States and is being sought by First Nations in Canada. Such challenges exist in the management of salmon and halibut as well as in the operation of ships passing through our shared waters. However, unlike the management of our orca, the management of these other resources is not left to ad hoc advisory committees, but to international treaties.
Given that no one government or person can lay claim to Luna, his family, or the marine environment, it is time that elected officials from both sides of the border call for the creation of an Orca Commission. The Commission should be comprised of researchers, bureaucrats, tribes, environmentalists and elected officials to address the ongoing challenges associated with bilaterally managing our totem orca population. In this way Luna may live on to help us all be better stewards.
By Fred Felleman, MSc.
A Death in the Family
Fred Felleman is a whale biologist and photographer. He is the NW Director of Ocean Advocates and former Board Member of Orca Conservancy firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Susan Berta and Howard Garrett
March 11, 2006
March 10, 2006 was a sad day for all of us who have been following his story and hoping for a much happier ending. From what we've gathered so far, the accident happened at around 9 am, in Mooyah Bay. A 100' tugboat had pulled into a cove to get out of rough seas, & was idling when Luna approached it. As in recent reports from Mike Parfit, Luna commonly approached the wash of props (see photo
below}, & 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 were headed out today to the scene to look for evidence.
We remember mourning 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 Sept. 1999. Howie was back on San Juan Island for the first time in two years (he had been in Miami working to get Lolita home). Just before we had to leave the island, 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! 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 several weeks researchers wondered just who L98 really belonged to, as he was seen often with K pod rather than his mom.
But then he ended up back with mom/L67, & seemed to be a normal little guy, staying with his mom & 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 & fell behind the pod, & Luna stayed with him, losing track of the rest of the pod, then wandered up to Nootka Sound. 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 chosen home.
He was discovered in Nootka Sound in July 2001, & his presence was made public
by Canada's 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, the attempts to keep Luna away from people & boats, & the attempts to keep people & boats away from Luna, the making of plans to relocate him, the fear of marine parks lurking by to take him in, the attempted capture & relocation of Luna by DFO & NMFS, the interception of Luna during the capture attempts by the First Nations people who didn't want Luna captured, & the stories of all who provided monitoring & stewardship in Gold River & Nootka Sound over the last five years, trying to keep Luna safe.
We are especially thankful to Mike Parfit & Suzanne Chisholm for their amazing dedication at monitoring & observing Luna from a safe distance, & reporting on his behavior & his welfare in a very heartfelt way. Their regular reports on Luna have helped us all 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, all those who worked on the various stewardship projects during Luna's stay in Nootka Sound, & all who worked on the LunaLive project, attempting to set up a system of listening in to Luna & 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. We can only hope he is now again swimming alongside his uncle L39, wherever their spirits reside~
Susan & Howard
Below are more first person reports of encounters with Luna sent by Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisolm
LUNA REPORT & UPDATE:
Report from Nootka Sound
March 6, 2006
Copyright 2006 by Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit
By Mike Parfit
More adventures and a new injury
Last week Luna made an appearance at the Gold River dock for the first time in some weeks. He followed the Uchuck III in from his familiar territory, and hung out at the dock for one night. While he was there he visited several of his favorite boats, including a dozer boat working among the logs and a tug he often follows out in Nootka Sound. The next day he found his way back to his territory, no doubt hitching a ride on another slow boat.
I had a firsthand chance on Sunday to see how he works a boat's wake. I was out in his area for a couple of days. I spent most of the time listening to him echolocate and occasionally call, and watching him feed and visit fish farms. On Sunday I had a problem with my bilge pump, and got a fair amount of water in the boat. As a result, when I tried to go fast, there was too much weight in it, and I couldn't get it on the plane. Usually the boat can go about 20 knots, but with its belly full of water it could manage only about 7.5 knots, even with 5,500 rpm on the tach.
I decided I'd better try to get the pump fixed before my bunk in the cuddy was awash, so I headed back toward Gold River from the anchorage where I'd been listening to Luna. As I crossed the bay, the motor roaring but the mass of hull and water just wallowing through the waves, suddenly a fin popped up in the wake.
The noise and motion at the stern seemed tumultuous. It was hard to imagine any being managing to control his body in that heave of foam and splash. But there was Luna, careening along like a kid in a waterslide.
It was amazing. I stood at the helm, looking ahead for logs and back over my shoulder at Luna. He wasn't out to the side of the boat in the shaped waves, where I would have expected him to be. He was directly behind the outboard, where the water was all white and flung about. He was just surfing along, head down near the motor, dorsal slicing the foam.
He had that rough wave just where he wanted it. He must have been sliding down its steep edge, using the energy of the boat to carry him along. Several times he showed just how easy this was by lifting his flukes right out of the churning water. Once I saw him slide slightly to the port side of the stern of the boat, and through a smooth rush of water I could see his head under the surface. His had his mouth open. Not just a little bit, either. It was open big, for all the world like a kid on a bike careening downhill, no hands, mouth open, yelling with joy or fear or a glorious combination of both.
To me that open mouth was amazing. You'd think that big grin would be like a sea anchor and would yank him right out of the flow. But it didn't. He just kept surfing.
He would surf for quite a long time - thirty seconds at least, perhaps more. I was in such awe of his control in that tumult that I forgot to time him. Then he'd slide farther to port, porpoise once to get a breath, and go right back into the wake.
Finally, after about a kilometer of this, he broke away and went back into his fishing area. I continued to mush noisily along, eventually got back to Gold River and spent some productive time with my head down in the bilge, thinking about pumps and salt water and Luna.
I thought about him with both awe and worry. He's showing more damage. Sometime after the last time I saw him up close, in late February, he was cut by a prop. This is the first real multi-cut prop scar he's had.
He appears to have been run over by a relatively small boat at high speed. He has about ten parallel cuts on his left side. At one end of the batch of cuts the slices are closer together, indicating that the boat was accelerating at the time. This indicates to me that the operator was in a relatively light boat that had swift acceleration, and was trying to get away from Luna by slamming the throttle forward.
Most of the cuts are through to the white blubber. They are healing well, and do not look dangerous. There doesn't seem to be any swelling. Orcas in the wild get plenty of cuts and scrapes, including tooth rakes that can be at least as deep as this, so this isn't too much of a worry.
Obviously, given Luna's little demonstration of energy and playfulness when he chased me down and rode the wake, I don't think the injury in any way limits his activity. It's just ugly. But it does serve as a warning. Luna needs care now. The prop injury could have been prevented, because it's very easy to keep him away from problem encounters. It doesn't make sense to let these unnecessary risks continue.
We have had recent conversations with people at DFO, and have learned that plans are in the works for a meeting soon with members of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation to discuss the past year's stewardship program and look at options for the future. We were also glad to hear that after that meeting, DFO is planning to meet with the whole Gold River, Nootka Sound, and MMFN community as one group, to gather suggestions and make plans. That's great. We believe the best stewardship will involve everyone.
Solving the immediate situation for Luna is not complicated. Active engagement has been shown to work again and again when used sporadically in previous Luna stewardships. The only change necessary is to accept the fact that Luna makes contact with people regularly and with great determination, and that a workable solution does not need to change the amount of his interaction. It would just improve it by making it more consistent and much safer.
Obviously, Luna would be best off with his family. Although the option of trucking him south is no longer feasible for political, financial, and logistical reasons, there is a real chance that he may have a shot at a reunion at the mouth of Nootka Sound. His life in the interim is not perfect, but as he demonstrates every day, this is not a tank. He has freedom, food and a social life he has chosen to cobble together out of sea lions, boats, and people. The key is to keep him safe in this makeshift lifestyle until the opportunity to get back with his family occurs. This new injury shows how important it is to have a system in place as soon as possible.
Report from Nootka Sound, November 15, 2005
By Mike Parfit
Copyright by Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm
This was the weekend of the Maquinna Potlatch at Tsaxana, near Gold River. It was the potlatch to honour the passing of Ambrose Maquinna, former chief of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation, who died in July, 2001. We attended the potlatch from about 10 a.m. on Saturday morning until 7 a.m. on Sunday morning when the batteries on our cameras and in our sleepy minds ran out. The potlatch continued until about 11 a.m. Sunday.
It is often reported that the reason the First Nation opposed the capture and move for Luna last year was that the band members believe that Luna, whom they call Tsuxiit, carries the spirit of Ambrose Maquinna. As we understand this, the belief is more complicated and intricate than what has been described simply as reincarnation, and most people who have followed this story know that the First Nation's opposition to Luna's capture and relocation is also based on very fundamental cultural ties that the First Nation has with all orcas.
Nevertheless, many people outside Gold River expected that after the Mowachaht/Muchalaht people said a formal farewell to their chief, their opposition to the capture and move plan for Luna might end. In the past we have seen no evidence of that, and we saw no evidence of it at the potlatch either.
The ceremony served as a powerful reminder to us that even this very small First Nation has a rich, complex, and subtle culture. In the internal structure of the potlatch there were many formal, detailed protocols that were followed, and in the individual events of the potlatch - the many dances and songs - there was variety and complexity that we found extraordinary.
In some other indigenous cultures in other parts of the world the outward manifestations of the culture such as singing and dancing are maintained mainly as something to show visitors as reminders of past glory. This is not the case here. It is an indication of the power this culture retains that the songs and dances here are in no way designed for the entertainment of the outside public; they are in no way a show. They communicate culture both inside the individual First Nation and between it and other First Nations. To us outsiders what was being communicated sometimes seemed obscure, but that is how intricate cultures always look to those who have not grown up in their embrace.
In addition to the dances and song, elaborate speeches in which elders and chiefs spoke at length about the ways their families were related to the Maquinnas offered us a glimpse of how important these extended blood relationships were and are to many First Nations. Because of the depth of their history here, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht people know far better than the rest of us - to paraphrase Mike Maquinna - who they are and where they come from, and they go to great lengths to hang onto that knowledge by passing the most subtle links of family, described in the context of the grander subtlety of their linked past, across the generations.
It seems to us that the First Nation believes strongly that Luna is connected in that web of relationships that the Mowachaht/Muchalaht and their First Nation neighbours have taken such efforts to recognize and sustain. That must be an important part of why they relate to him as they have. The indications are that the potlatch has not changed that relationship. If anything it made the power of the relationship more vivid: many of the shawls of the women and the vests worn by the men were decorated with magnificent images of orcas.
As people both in this area and beyond it consider Luna's future, we think it's pretty important to recognize that the relationship that the Mowachaht/Muchalaht people feel toward Luna is stronger than just something political. We - Suzanne and I - come from other cultures, and it is neither accurate nor appropriate for us to say that we can understand this First Nation's world in all its complexity, but we respect it as a part of a culture that, as the potlatch showed, remains strong in the face of much stress.
On Saturday afternoon, while Suzanne stayed at the potlatch, I went out on the water for a while. Luna appears to have moved away from the Gold River area to make his base back in his more familiar territory quite a distance from the docks. We've been told that he has spent time with the large landing craft that is one of his favourite vessels, but only when that ship came through the territory. And we have had heard reports that he spent some time near fish farms in the neighbourhood. But when I went out on Saturday, people hadn't seen him for a couple of days. I stopped in at several places along the Sound and asked about him, but there were no reports.
But any anxiety was lifted as I watched from near the edge of the familiar territory. There Luna was, foraging out in the middle. It was good to see him, independent guy that he is, getting along as always. I watched for quite a while, and after darkness fell, he took a bit of a cruise with a Coast Guard ship that came in from the rough seas outside to anchor for the night in one of the bays near Luna's territory.
I talked briefly by radio to someone on the ship, then left the area well after dark, driving along with prickles of rain on my face, cold but happy, thinking fancifully that on this night of a celebration that included him among those honoured, Tsuxiit had found the chance to be a host himself to storm-tossed travelers from another world. It seemed oddly fitting with the many ironies in this story that the people whom Luna hosted on this evening of the potlatch were, as members of the Canadian Coast Guard, employees of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
If there was a symbolic moment on the water in this day of symbolism on land, we would like to think that it was this: Maybe Luna can teach us how, in spite of the huge differences in perspective between peoples, there may still be common ground when it comes to figuring out how to live both with one another and with the complex and wonderful other lives with whom we share our world.
I went out on the water again on Monday with Keith Wood, of Anon.org, to try to fix the Luna Live research hydrophone. Keith was able to find the problem and repair it, which was great. It was also great to see Luna foraging and playing nearby. We saw him tail slapping several times, once again out in the middle of the place to which he has always returned. He also romped around the turbulent wake of a tug that came rumbling through the bay. Then, when Keith got back to Gold River and listened to the Internet link to the hydrophone, he immediately heard six short Luna calls.
From our human perspective, it looks to us as if Luna, like the Mowachaht/Muchalaht people, dances and sings to hold on to who he is. But what those songs and dances fully mean is beyond us.
October 17, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm
Luna is still in the Gold River area, dividing his time between working in the timber industry and being a fisherman. When not fishing at length in the Sound, he has been playing either with the boom boats in the log sort areas, or with tugs that pull logs from one log sort area to another. It’s about the same kind of activity that we described in our last report.
Recently he also spent time with one of the larger working boats in the Sound. We saw him there playing with a tire fender, which seemed to provide a lot of entertainment. He spent some of his nights near that boat, resting next to its black hull. On another night he rested between that boat and another large vessel, which were rafted next to each other.
On Monday (Oct 17) I went out in our Zodiac, Blackfish. Luna had apparently been at the dock during the night, and headed out in the early morning with the same large work boat that he’d spent the night with earlier. He rode the wake to a nearby logging camp, where he jumped ship and went to work with a blue boom boat that was roaring along among the floating logs. When I got there I climbed up on a point of land to watch. He charged along beside the boom boat as it lurched and shoved among the logs, sorting bundles into groups. I couldn’t tell if Luna was helping or hindering in the operation to push the bundles around, but from what I’ve often been told, I’m sure he gave a few of the bundles a shove here and there.
I watched him from the point and later from the wheelhouse of the work boat, whose operators are very fond of Luna. He was with the boom boat for about two hours. Then the work boat finished its job at that camp and started up with a rumble and a froth of turbulent water, and Luna came zipping back to it. The big boat left the camp and headed for another camp, and as it went I saw the telltale burst spray as Luna crashed up out of the wake for a breath.
Most of these tugs and larger boats are vessels that Luna has known since his earliest days in Nootka Sound. We cannot know for sure whether or not he finds their familiarity reassuring. But we can hope so.
Report from Nootka Sound, October 9, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm
Maybe one of the reasons people respond to Luna with so much affection is that he seems to have such a zest for life. It’s probable that all orcas are like this, but most of them are a bit more distant from people than Luna is, so maybe we don’t see as much of the play. And Luna sure does play.
Last week, for instance, Luna spent a lot of time with a tug that he has often played with in the past. The tug has recently been towing large rafts of logs across Nootka Sound from one log sort area to another. When towing it moves quite slowly but with a substantial output of power, and Luna seems to like this. When we saw him he was mostly playing around the bow, sometimes rubbing against the tug’s rough hull. But often he would do something we’d heard about before but didn’t quite believe. Now we’ve seen it, and it’s true.
What he does is simple, but not quite what one would expect. He comes up to the bow of the tug, where there’s a large sawtooth-shaped steel leading edge, designed to help the tug get a grip on logs. These blunt teeth get a good grip on a whale, too. Luna rolls on his back, puts his flukes up against the teeth, and just lies there, pointing forward, letting the tug push him along. Sometimes he does this when he’s upright in the water, too, but usually it’s upside down, showing his white belly, with his pec fins sticking part way out of the water as if to prove that he’s doing no work at all. Sometimes when he’s lying there on his back, moving along at the tug’s sedate speed, he blows bubbles, which come frothing up around his upper body. Who knows what he’s thinking about, but it sure looks like fun.
While Luna wasn’t occupied with the tug, he kept busy elsewhere. He’s still spending time in the Gold River area, though his visits to the dock are few. When he’s been at the dock he has spent time pushing parked gillnet boats and other boats, mostly by rubbing on their hulls. We aren’t aware of any damage that’s been caused, and we asked one of the fishermen about that. He said that Luna hadn’t given him any trouble, and had just played for a while with a hose that was running over the side. We also saw Luna shepherding a large purse seine boat that was in the sound surveying the fishery for DFO. The operators of that boat also told us that they did not have problems with him.
One of the people who work in the area said that Luna spent most of one night resting beside one of the larger working boats. The skipper, who often sleeps aboard, woke occasionally to the sound of Luna’s measured breath just outside the window.
Luna would have good reason to rest. He had very active days. On one of them, he started off by working during the night and early morning hours with a loading operation conducted at a log sort by a huge barge that hauls logs from Nootka Sound to destinations up and down the BC coast. This operation is very active, with lots of splashing and the roaring of engines, and involves cranes lifting bundles of logs from the water onto the barge, supported by dozer boats that dash around below the cranes, moving bundles into their reach. We haven’t seen this, but we’ve been told that Luna loves this activity, bustling from dozer boat to log bundle, and sometimes shoving the bundles around himself.
After the barge was loaded, Luna followed it out of the Gold River area west down the Sound for miles, and apparently got all the way back to his familiar territory, many miles from Gold River. That morning he was heard making calls on the hydrophone in the area. But he didn’t stay long. Another tug that he enjoys came past towing yet another of his favourite tugs, which had been disabled during an operation some distance away. Luna hopped into the wake of this combination, and we saw him still porpoising along with the two boats an hour or two later, back up the Sound near Gold River.
He followed the two tugs all the way to one of the commercial docks in the Gold River harbour, where he alternately assisted and opposed the efforts of the towing tug’s crew to dock the disabled tug. Then when the job was done and the towing tug headed back out at speed, Luna hopped into that white wake and took off westbound again. Finally, two or three miles from the Gold River docks, he dropped off and did a little foraging. By now he'd covered 30 or 40 nautical miles of Nootka Sound already that day, so a salmon sandwich wouldn't have been out of order.
His enthusiasm for action didn’t diminish, though. We were watching from a distance in our Zodiac, and pretty soon he appeared to get an idea about something going on somewhere else, and he headed out in what looked like a very purposeful journey back up the sound toward Gold River. This time he did something we haven’t seen often: he slapped his tail frequently as he went. We started marking the slaps in a notebook, and counted 19. During this trip, he appeared to be headed directly for a small boat that was stopped in the sound. We thought he was going to try to interact with it, but he didn’t. He came charging up to it, slapping his tail as he went, then swam directly underneath it, and came up on the other side, still chugging along on the same precise heading he was steering on before, slapping away.
After another kilometer of this, he finally came to a sort of a stop, where he did some foraging, but his boating day wasn’t over. Shortly, along came the Uchuck III, which is also a favourite ship for him. He charged over to surf its ample wake, and rode it all the way to the Gold River docks.
At that point, the Kakawin Guardian boat came along and led him away from possible trouble at the dock. The guardians ushered him back out to an area where he seems to like to fish, and watched him go to work in the salmon fields. After they left him there, we got up on a nearby point of land and watched through binoculars as he foraged back and forth. A busy guy.
Report from Nootka Sound
By Mike Parfit
Copyright 2005 by Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm
Luna has been mostly near the Gold River end of the Sound. He has been working with the boom boats at the log sort near the docks, spent some time resting near one of his favourite boats, and hung around the dock itself a few times, though usually not at times when people were there to watch. We have talked to several visitors who have wanted to see him, but haven’t. He has also been spending his time with other boats that have been working within a few kilometres of the docks.
On one of the days when we went out recently, he was working with a tug that was hauling logs. This kind of boat must be particularly to Luna’s liking; lots of power blasting out of it, but it is not fast enough to get away from him. When we went over to the tug to talk to the skipper, Luna came popping out from behind it, zipped over to our Zodiac, Blackfish, gave a big pec slap right next to our boat, then zipped right back to the blast of water at the stern of the tug.
I was looking elsewhere at the time, and I was startled by the slap, because it sounded exactly like a big balloon popping, and anyone who runs an inflatable is somewhat sensitive to popping noises. When I thought about it later, it made me remember once when we were talking to the people on the Kakawin Guardian boat and Luna came up near Blackfish. Once again, I hadn’t noticed him approach, and wasn’t looking, and he made a sound I didn’t find amusing at all. Through his blowhole he was making the sound of hissing.
On Friday there was a lot of activity on the Sound, and for a while the Kakawin Guardian boat led Luna away from the dock area. However, he was reluctant to leave that part of the Sound, and simply wouldn’t go farther than a very few miles from area. Since he did something similar last year, the theory is that the salmon have gathered, as usual, at this end of the inlet to go up the rivers, but until now the rivers have still been quite low, and not many have started the climb to their spawning grounds. So Luna can feast. No wonder he doesn’t want to leave.
We have recently had substantial rain here. The waterfalls that come down the cliffs near the road to the dock have gone from trickles to thunder. And the rivers have come roaring back to life. So the salmon will begin their ultimate ascent. I’ll be curious to see whether Luna heads back out to his familiar territory soon.
At the end of the day on Friday I sat up on a rock near the Gold River docks and watched Luna forage in the distance. He was just close enough so I could see his plume and occasionally the shine of low sunlight off his dorsal fin. I was there for about two hours, and during the whole time he worked back and forth in less than a square kilometer, throwing his breath up to be caught in that low sunlight against a dark backdrop of water and trees. He would dive for a minute or two, then come up and breathe three times in fairly quick succession, then go back down. Not much splashing around or anything showy, but every once in a while he would move quickly along near the surface for a hundred metres or so, as if shuttling over to a slightly new fishing ground, before going down again for a longer dive.
From where I was on the rock, the sun sank almost directly into the gap in the mountains where the water lies. I sat and watched while the sunset bloomed like a rose. A few crew boats came in from various work camps on the Sound. The air was misty, and softened the details of the trees and rock on the far side of the water, near where Luna was. There was a final gust of sunlight through the gap, which cast the day’s last shadows in the canyons and threw highlights on the ridges, and lay a soft line of glitter along the water. Then the light faded swiftly and the backdrop became just a silhouette of mountains in the darkest shade of blue. Luna’s plume submerged in the tide of nightfall.
But as the evening breeze grew calm, sounds came across the water. I heard a truck start up at the distant docks. A squirrel chirred a long way up the hillside. I think I heard the faint burst of Luna’s breath, as he went on fishing.
Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm
Luna sees the sea
Report from Nootka Sound, September 16
copyright 2005 by Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit
Yesterday (September 15) something good happened with Luna that hasn't happened for more than a year, and holds promise. With a little help from his friends in the Mowachaht/Muchalaht stewardship program -- the Kakawin Guardians -- he made it out of Nootka Sound to the edge of the open sea, and stayed there for a while.
Many of those who want Luna to reunite naturally with his pod have been hoping that he'd have the chance to learn to use at least nearby parts of the open ocean as well as the tight confines of Nootka Sound. As early as the spring of 2003 scientists advised DFO to encourage Luna's use of the open ocean in order to facilitate a reunion. Out there he is exposed to a far wider acoustic window than he is in the Sound. If his pod approaches he'll be able to hear them, and perhaps call to them, from much farther away.
Luna got to the edge of the ocean a few times during pre-capture training exercises in the spring of 2004, but it hasn't happened since. It did on Wednesday.
Here's how: Early in the morning the stewardship personnel saw Luna breaching and tail slapping in his familiar territory. This often seems to signal that one of Luna's favourite boats is coming. Moments later the Uchuck III came around a point and steamed through Luna's area. Luna hopped a ride on the wake and rode it a few kilometres. He left the boat near a group of kayakers, but the Kakawin Guardians, using their DFO interaction permit, intervened and led him away.
Because the Uchuck had already led Luna in the direction of the sea, the Guardians kept going. The Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation has never opposed a reunion for Luna; the members simply do not believe he should be captured and moved to try to force one to happen, and they are suspicious that a capture
might lead to permanent captivity rather than to a reunion. But as we understand it, they have always been comfortable with giving Luna the choice of what he wants to do with his life. They see him as a sovereign being who can make his own decisions and may in fact be wiser than humans are about many
things, but we don't think they are opposed to helping him look out of the Nootka Sound window at the options available in the big sea.
The Guardians gave him the chance to do just that. Luna followed them all the way past a group of islands that sit in the middle of the entrance to Nootka Sound, and finally out to where the Pacific swells are no longer broken by arms of land, and the horizon to the west is just a long straight line.
Luna seemed comfortable there. We were out there watching from our little boat, and when he moved away from the Guardians, he did not immediately flee back into the rocky embrace of the Sound. Instead he foraged for at least an hour among the gentle late-summer swells.
It was a big moment. To see Luna out in these vast waters made him look smaller, but also made him seem less alone, as if the barriers that lie between him and his family were reduced. The walls of stone were gone, and so, it seemed, was some of his reluctance to explore. Now the separation was just water and distance. We couldn't help but look out at that horizon for other dorsal fins, for other puffs of orca breath. It was a magic hour, in which L-pod's presence at the edge of Nootka Sound might emerge from the dream people have had for so long and become real.
For today, though, it remained only a hope. After a while, Luna made his choice for the day. He moved slowly away from the ocean toward more familiar places in the Sound. He didn't go very far, though. In the evening, when we last saw his small black fin in the distance, he was only a few kilometres in
from the broad opening of the Sound, still close enough to hear calls from afar.
The Kakawin Guardians have told us that they are hoping to help Luna make a habit of using the open sea for foraging -- and for listening.
Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm
Report from Nootka Sound Sept 22, 2005
By Mike Parfit
Copyright 2005 Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm
Luna has had some active days.
Recently, he's been visiting a small marina a few nautical miles from his home territory. As far as we know he hasn't done any damage there, but he has pushed boats around there enough so people have requested assistance.
On one of the days the Kakawin Guardian boat, the Wi-hut-suh-nup, led him away, and on another day the Coast Guard ship Atlin Post helped lead him out. On the evening of the second day, the Atlin Post anchored for the night in Luna's home territory, and the crew saw a highly unusual sight: On one side of the ship was Luna, generally taking it easy, and on the other side was a fur seal - rare for these parts - behaving, well, like Luna: playing with the ship. Nootka Sound is an unusual place.
The past few days have been busy for us, too. I was out on my own on
Tuesday and Wednesday and we both went out Thursday. All three days were active for Luna.
On Tuesday he seemed to be hiding out much of the day, but popped up at a sportfishing boat in the afternoon in one of the inlets where he doesn't normally spend a lot of time. We just put our lines out and there he was, as one of the fishermen said later. He didn't do any damage, but the boat's skipper called the Coast Guard for assistance when it was obvious Luna was settling in for a long play session.
The Coast Guard ship Atlin Post sent a Zodiac and the Kakawin Guardian
stewardship boat also came, but by then the fishing boat had followed Coast Guard instructions on the radio to zoom away from Luna and was in the clear.
I was watching all this from a shoreline hillside where I'd jumped ashore, tied up our Zodiac, Blackfish, and clambered up some boulders to the tree line. About the time that I saw Luna off by himself, I heard an odd little sound behind me. I looked behind, then up. In clambering up the shoreline, I had inadvertently treed a bear. There it was, perched like a very big crow right above me, staring down. I am not sure whose eyes were larger.
Up the tree, the bear couldn't leave. I could. I did. For a little while, therefore, I wasn't watching out for Luna, and he slipped away around a point somewhere. After that, neither I nor the Kakawin Guardians saw him the rest of the time we were out there.
Luna apparently spent the night not far from where we'd last seen him. On Wednesday Luna started off hitching a ride from that area with a big tug that's often used to pull rafts of logs. The tug's destination was a log sort area, and Luna got off the wake there and played with the boom boat that was working among the logs. When I showed up, the sun was still relatively low, and all I could see of him were big silver plumes of his spout coming up from behind log bundles. The boom boat operator came over to Blackfish and we discussed Luna as Luna lay near the boom boat. The operator said that he likes Luna but that he's afraid of hurting him, so he's always looking around to make sure he isn't about to run over the little whale. This particular boom boat has a jet instead of a prop, which makes it unusually attractive to Luna. The operator said that Luna loves to get right up to the blast of water and let it wash over him.
I gave the Kakawin Guardian boat a call on the radio, and the guardians
came over and encouraged Luna to stop hogging the boom boat's jet. Eventually they led him back to his familiar territory.
Today was similar. In the morning, Luna was foraging in his home territory. Then he apparently heard his big friend the Uchuck III coming. To greet the ship, he breached several times (as often happens when the Uchuck III approaches), then rushed over to play alongside the lovely old ship as it was unloading cargo next to a fish farm. When the ship left the fish farm Luna rode the wake for several miles through a passage to another inlet. I was following, and noticed that he porpoised a few times almost near the bow of the ship, which is a little unusual; most of the time he rides farther aft in the broadening wake.
Once Luna and the Uchuck III reached the other bay, Luna left the big ship in favor of a sport fishing boat. After the fishing boat disconnected itself by zooming away, the Kakawin Guardians kept Luna away from a large group of kayakers that needed to cross the passage where Luna had just been cruising through with the Uchuck. Once the kayakers were ashore, the guardians led Luna home through that same waterway.
Over the past few days I've talked to a lot of people in boats and on docks about Luna, and have been glad to find that virtually all of them - workers, boat operators, and sport fishers - have been sympathetic toward Luna. A few are worried that someone may shoot him or that he'll get hurt or killed accidentally, but not many seem to be worried these days that he'll hurt someone.
A few people have said something that is well-meaning but troubling.
Because Luna likes people so much, they have said, "Why don't they just
take him to an aquarium so he can have people around him all the time?"
I can understand how someone who has just seen Luna come up and touch a
person's hand can say that, but we disagree very strongly. The way we look at it, it's exactly like saying, "My daughter likes to talk on the phone, so let's lock her in a phone booth the rest of her life." Just like people, orcas need a social life, but for both species, the social life of a jail is a disaster. Luna's a good kid. No jail.
The other, more important thing people have said to me and Suzanne is how gentle Luna seems. These are folks who have accidentally met up with him on the water or, more commonly, have seen him at one of the small marinas. They have remarked on his gentleness, and have not used the word that has appeared so often in the press: "attack."
Two things are going on here to account for what they're saying.
First, Luna is far gentler and more easygoing in general than he appears to be in the news. The reason for this is simple: People report when they have an unpleasant experience with Luna, because it's legal to be "attacked." However, when Luna is gentle and playful and people have a good time with him it is illegal to have done that, so it is never reported. Never.
But those gentle events happen almost every day on Nootka Sound. These
happen mostly with work boats that can't outrun Luna; the numbers of
individual pleasure boats seeking Luna for interaction are now very few, possibly because of so many "attack" reports in the papers. Far fewer damaging events happen compared to gentle ones, but they are the ones that get reported to either DFO or the press.
So the impression of Luna that comes out - even to the offices of DFFO - is highly distorted. The whale we read about and hear about fromm people who aren't here much has an entirely different personality from the one we have seen over the past year and a half.
The second reason people aren't talking about "attacks" much may be that while Luna has an active stewardship program he may indeed be more mellow. It may have something to do with the regular presence of the Kakawin Guardians on the water and their continuing efforts to lead Luna back to his home territory away from trouble or to lead him out toward the open ocean.
Not only have the guardians reduced the incidents in which Luna has
interacted with people who don't want him around, but we also think it's possible that this relative consistency of the company in Luna's life actually makes him more mellow.
Don't get us wrong here. Luna is not getting more attention than normal
with the presence of the guardians. If they weren't here he'd be getting it from other boats and people, many of whom might not want it. A good example was Thursday. When Luna jumped off the Uchuck III's wake and headed right for that fishing boat that was trolling nearby, a long and troubling interaction might have followed. The people on board were curious about him but were also nervous. But a guardian boat was there almost immediately. The people were glad. They just needed to be told that it was OK to zoom away from him. With Luna temporarily distracted, they went. But with no stewardship on the water they would clearly have been afraid to do that - having read whale-watching guidelines for other places --- and they might have had a long encounter that they would not have known how to handle.
But in addition to stopping problem interactions, the guardians may
actually be positively affecting Luna's emotional state. This may be
because Luna sees the same boat and people regularly and is less often
meeting up with people who are scared of him or who interact with him
inappropriately. We think that the consistency of the relationship with the guardians may be very calming and reassuring for Luna.
This seems to have happened last year, too. A man who works on a boat on the Sound almost every day said last year, after a week or two of the 2004 First Nation's stewardship, that Luna appeared mellower.
But as with all things about this friendly but mysterious little guy, no one really knows the answers to so many questions. These are just guesses. But what we do know from talking with people over this past week is that when people don't feel threatened by Luna they react to him not just with curiosity, but with affection.
Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm
Gold River, British Columbia
A whale of a solution: Give Luna human link
August 11, 2005 (Toronto Globe and Mail) Luna the dangerously sociable West Coast killer whale needs a human "foster" family because it prefers people to whales, say two writers studying the six-year-old marine mammal.
Three years after the giant, 1½-tonne creature swam solo into an inlet off the tiny Vancouver Island village of Gold River, Luna shows no signs of ever leaving the busy waterway, said Michael Parfit, who pitched his unorthodox plan to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
If anything, Luna is more drawn than ever to human activity on the seas, Mr. Parfit said.
The whale, which was nicknamed Luna by Gold River residents, has no qualms about approaching and giving a boat a nudge with its nose.
It also toys with float planes in busy Nootka Sound on the west side of the island.
All attempts to limit human interaction with Luna have failed, Mr. Parfit said, so he believes a drastically different approach is needed. He thinks Luna needs human guardians because area boaters -- especially sports fishermen -- are fed up with the whale and might harm it.
"Half of the fishers think he should be shot," he said.
Mr. Parfit isn't the first person to take note of Luna's powerful personality. Last year, a Vancouver Island fisherman and his son were held hostage for six hours while Luna tossed their gill-netter around like a toy.
At the time, the whale looked eerily human when it splashed along his father's fishing boat, David Alhous said.
"What kind of a whale interacts with boats and humans?" Mr. Alhous asked. "You should have seen him lying beside our boat, looking up at you with his eyes, like he wants you to pet him."