L98 (Luna) News Clips, Sightings Reports and Forum comments
Luna Forum Page
Comments and news releases since September 1, 2003 from interested observers.
Mom L67 with newborn baby Luna close behind, Sept. 1999. Photo by Susan Berta
Map of Luna's location compliments of John and Rene Halliburton
Tsu'xiit (Luna) dies in boat propellor
March 11, 2006 (The Westcoaster
) Mowachaht / Muchalaht Tyee Ha'wilth Mike Maquinna looked out across Muchalaht Inlet, hoping news reports about Tsu’xiit were wrong.
The 237 tonne, 29-metre American tugboat General Jackson had come into Nootka Sound the night before, seeking shelter from gale-force winds off Nootka Island.
Towing a fully loaded log-dumping barge, the ship resumed its southward voyage early the next morning (Friday, March 10th) when the captain heard a loud thump.
According to a report from Fisheries Officer Ed Thorburne, the skipper looked back, saw a blood-red wake, and knew immediately what had happened.
He radioed the Canadian Coast Guard station at Amphitrite Point and advised them that Luna had been sucked into the 6-foot diameter ship propeller.
Local fisheries and RCMP officers jumped into their Zodiacs and raced to Conception Point on the southeast corner of Bligh Island to investigate, but could not find any trace of Luna, dead or alive.
A Mowachaht / Muchalaht boat in the area also joined the search.
When Mowachaht / Muchalaht searcher Sam Johnson Jr. arrived back at the Gold River dock, he immediately walked silently towards Maquinna. As he shook Maquinna’s hand, Johnson broke in to sobs. “It’s never going to be the same out there,” he said.
Three days after his arrival, Mowachaht / Muchalaht Tyee Ha’wilth Ambrose Maquinna died, but not before telling ha’wilth (Chief) Jerry Jack that he would return as a kakawin. Luna was named "Tsux'iit" in honour of the late Chief.
In June 2004, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) claimed that Tsu’xiit was a danger to boaters, and attempted to capture and relocate him to Puget Sound.
Mowachaht / Muchalaht, who were not consulted on the relocation plan, blocked DFO’s attempts to capture the whale.
“Nature must be allowed to take its course,” Maquinna said repeatedly in front of cameras broadcasting the story around the world.
Documents obtained through the federal Access to Information Program clearly show that many within DFO were suspicious of the move, as the department was already in discussion with aquariums in Ontario and California.
“The Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation is extremely saddened by the death of a killer whale, believed to be Tsu’xiit. He was a part of our community, and we hold him in very high regard,” said Maquinna. “In our culture, the killer whale is very significant, and everyone is saddened by the news a kakawin (killer whale) has died in our territory,” he said.
The Mowachaht / Muchalaht First Nation will celebrate the life of the kakawin at a special ceremony on Monday morning at Tsu’xiit’s favoured feeding area in Mooya Bay.
Famed killer whale dies in B.C.
March 10, 2006 (Toronto Globe and Mail
) The wild, lonely ride of Luna the killer whale is over.
The boisterous six-year-old, black-and-white orca was well known for trying to find friends among ships plying the waters of Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
But yesterday, Luna got too close and was sucked into the two-metre-long propeller of an idling tugboat seeking shelter off Bligh Island from a vicious storm.
But environmentalists and a pair of journalists who had tracked the animal said in the five years since Luna had been separated from his family, he had been flirting with disaster.
“We didn't believe it,” Mike Parfit said in a phone interview from Gold River, about 350 kilometres northwest of Victoria. “That's what happens when you hear something about a loved one. You don't believe it.”
Mr. Parfit and his wife, Suzanne Chisholm, have been following Luna's story since he first appeared off the coast of Gold River in 2001, and Mr. Parfit spent the past two years listening to Luna's calls in his boat.
Luna had been separated from his family, which usually swims off the south coast of Vancouver Island. He quickly made a name for himself, swimming in the wakes of ships, but eventually became notorious for damaging boats and seaplanes.
For the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation, he had a spiritual significance: their chief, Ambrose Maquinna, expected to return after death as a killer whale. Just days after Mr. Maquinna died, Luna surfaced.
In March, when ship traffic is minimal, the only boat looking out for Luna was Mr. Parfit's. Yesterday morning, he was devastated when he heard the news.
“I sat there through the night with speakers in my boat listening to [Luna] call,” he said. “He came up to my boat and looked at me. But I wasn't there this morning. It just tears me up.
Luna the orphaned whale feared dead after being hit by tugboat
March 10, 2006 (canada.com
) Luna, the dangerously friendly killer whale, has been killed doing the same sorts of things that enraged some boaters, but endeared him to hundreds of others in British Columbia and around the world.
Dr. John Ford, a whale biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said Friday it appears Luna died after getting sucked into the propeller of a tugboat in the waters off Gold River, where the whale has been living for the past five years.
"There's really no blame,'' Ford said.
Luna loved to play with boats of all sizes and Ford said he appeared quite savvy around them, rarely getting more than a few nicks.
But he miscalculated this time.
"Luna was apparently interacting with the tug as Luna used to do,'' Ford said from Victoria.
"Luna was apparently drawn into the very large propeller. The impact was felt by people on the tug. There were blood and remains in the wake of the tug. It's very likely that Luna was struck with fatal blows by the propeller and probably died instantly.''
The tug had been idling in rough, stormy waters when the accident occurred.
A spokesman for the tugboat company, Great Northern Marine Towing Ltd., of New Westminster said the captain and crew of the vessel General Jackson are heartbroken about the incident, which was described as unavoidable.
"We're all very sad about it,'' said Barry Connerty.
"It's pretty tragic. It's unfortunate. It was an accident. We all tried to avoid it. We did everything we could to avoid that outcome.''
Luna the Killer Whale Believed Killed
March 10, 2006 (Washington Post
) Luna, the juvenile killer whale from Washington state waters who got lost in Canada's Nootka Sound five years ago, apparently died Friday when he was accidentally struck by a tugboat propeller, Canadian authorities said.
Luna, known to scientists as L-98 and a member of one of Washington's three resident orca pods, or family groups, wandered into Nootka Sound on the west side of Vancouver Island in 2001 and stayed, worrying activists and annoying boaters and seaplane pilots with his friendly curiosity.
"We don't know 100 percent but we do believe it's Luna," said spokeswoman Lara Sloan with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Transient killer whales, which range along the coast preying on seals and other marine mammals, occasionally come through the long, twisty sound, but tend to avoid human traffic.
The dangerously friendly Luna was part of the region's "resident population," which spends much of the year in U.S. and Canadian inland waters. They live and hunt in family groups and mostly eat fish, especially salmon,
The 1,700-horsepower seagoing tug had pulled into sheltered waters near Conception Point to escape rough weather in the Pacific. Luna, known to enjoy playing in boat wakes, "was swimming under the vessel and was hit by a propeller," Sloan said.
"It was a really big tugboat _ 104 feet," she said.
The vessel was idling when Luna approached.
"Luna came over as he does and was interacting _ disappearing under the hull and so on. ... He must have gotten drawn into the propeller," said government research scientist and orca expert John Ford.
The tug's big propeller, contained in a cylinder, "generates a lot of current. ... It would have been a sudden death."
"The skipper is reported to be greatly distressed. He called the coast guard immediately after it happened," Sloan said from agency offices in Vancouver, British Columbia. "A lot of people here are pretty shocked and saddened."
"It was one of our fears about what might happen to Luna," Ford said. "Of course he's been engaging in these risky interactions with boats for several years now."
Luna likely was not familiar with the size and power of this vessel. While the carcass was not immediately recovered, "it seems almost certain to me that this is indeed Luna," Ford said. "And it's almost certain it was fatal."
Ford last saw Luna in January, when Ford visited the sound in a 200-foot research boat. "He came over. He was always curious."
Luna the orca killed by tugboat
March 10, 2006 (KING5 TV
) Canadian officials believe a killer whale struck and killed by a tugboat off Vancouver Island is Luna.
Luna, known to scientist as L-98, wandered away from the L pod in Washington state waters five years ago and stayed in Nootka Sound. Apparently lonely, it would bump into boats and play in wakes.
The Canadian Fisheries Department says Luna was swimming in Nootka Sound under the 104-foot tugboat today when it was hit by a propeller. A federal fisheries official said the incident was an accident.
An attempt to move Luna back from Canada to U.S. waters in 2004 was thwarted when Indian canoes lured it away.
In 2002, marine mammal experts had successfully had moved another lone orca, named A-73 or Springer, from Puget Sound back to her home pod in British Columbia.
Luna Generates Talk, Emotion
March 17, 2006 (Kitsap Sun
) One week after Luna was killed by a tugboat, emotions are still pouring out for the young orca who lived alone for five years in Canadian waters.
"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," wrote Susan Berta and Howard Garrett in a tribute they published on Orca Network. To see their essay and others, go to www.orcanetwork.org and click on "Luna has died."
Luna, known to scientists as L-98, was killed by a the propeller of a tugboat that entered Nootka Sound last Friday to escape a storm whipping up the ocean. Luna approached the 105-foot tugboat, as he did many boats of all sizes. He became caught in the surge of the propeller and was killed.
Limited tissues were recovered and will be used to learn what Luna was eating in Nootka Sound and determine levels of contamination he may have picked up, according to John Ford, a researcher with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Some of the tissue was shipped to U.S. scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle.
Mike Maquinna, chief of the local Mowachaht/Muchalaht band of natives, tossed a cedar bough into the water in honor of the whale they called Tsu’xiit, reported David Wiwchar on the Westcoaster news site.
"He was part of our community, and we hold him in very high regard," Maquinna was quoted as saying. "In our culture, the killer whale is very significant, and everyone is saddened by the news that a kakawin (killer whale) has died in our territory."
The Mowachaht/Muchalaht are planning a formal ceremony for Luna in July.
Beyond Nootka Sound, emotions, including anger and remorse, have poured out onto Web pages.
Michael Parfit, a writer and video producer, spent much of the winter on Nootka Sound. He admitted this week that he led Luna out of trouble from boats on a few occasions. But he was not on the water when Luna was killed and says he cannot escape a feeling of guilt.
"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," he wrote.
Parfit's reflections, along with a political analysis by Fred Felleman of Ocean Advocates, can be found on the Orca Network Web site.
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."
Luna's rough love takes toll of Nootka boats
July 27, 2005 (Victoria Times Colonist
) Hopes that Luna the lonely orca is losing his fascination with boats faded Friday.
The five-year-old whale, apparently attracted by the summer influx of boats in Nootka Sound, spent much of the day dismantling parts of vessels.
"He came into the marina here and spent about two hours beating up boats," said Cameron Forbes, owner of Critter Cove Marina on Tlupana Inlet. "He broke three boats. He's ripped the brackets off the kicker motors."
Forbes said he tried unsuccessfully for two hours to get help from the coast guard's rapid response boat at Friendly Cove and from the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation.
Eventually, Luna was lured from Critter Cove by the MV Uchuck--one of his favorite vessels--which was on a regular run.
The Mowachaht/Muchalaht has asked the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to pay for a band vessel on the water constantly during fishing season to steer Luna away from trouble.
However, negotiations for the "stewardship" agreement are moving slowly. In the meantime, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht say they are already doing the patrols that they are funding themselves.
December 02, 2004
Luna was last seen on Monday a few miles from Mooyah Bay (we do not post
his exact location). His patterns are still consistent with the patterns
that he followed last winter. Luna has not been near the Gold River docks
now for a few weeks.
Luna seems uninterested in boats right now. We had a report that six boats
passed him by last week, and he just continued to forage. Luna appears
Luna is a very vocal whale and continues to call on a regular basis.
December 01, 2004
When an orca gets up close and too personal -- and you can't do anything
Story and Photos by Greg Middleton
Re-typed from Pacific Yachting - December 2004 issue
It came out of the blue. I was below when I heard my crew yell there was a
killer whale right beside the boat. "Oh no, it's Luna," I thought, rushing
to grab the wheel. I felt a hard blow that nearly jerked the wheel out of
my hand; then another; and another. At some point in those first few
panic-stricken seconds the steering failed. I knew instinctively that the
rudder was swinging free. I cut the engine. The whale was right under the
It was mid-August and I was heading in to Gold River to reprovision and
change crew on a trip around Vancouver Island. Little did I know this
sudden encounter would stay with me for several days.
My only thought was to try to get away from Luna. I threw open the
starboard side compartment and grabbed the emergency tiller. I slipped it
into the hole in the rudderstock and started up the engine, hoping to get
steerage back and escape. Within seconds the boat was again disabled and we
were at Luna's mercy, under attack, being pushed around in circles with no
hope of escape.
Again, the whale hit the rudder hard, shoving the emergency tiller around
against my leg. I heard a bang below and thought the rudder had hit the
prop. Fearing even more damage to my boat, I jerked the emergency tiller
out and shut the engine off. The whale was shoving the boat around in
circles. Every time he came up and blew, the cockpit was showered with
spray. I knew the trip I had dreamed about for years had just run into a
That morning I had talked to some of the half dozen sailboats anchored in
Friendly Cove. There was talk about whether to take off to avoid
deteriorating weather or not. I was planning to stay to fish so I decided
to go into Gold River to wait out the bit of bad weather. No one mentioned
any concerns about taking the boat in to Nootka Sound.
I had listened to the weather and to any Notices to Mariners and kept the
VHF on Ch 16 during the day. I am pretty cautious. My crew and I had gone
ashore at Friendly Cove and had not seen any notices warning boaters about
Luna like the ones I later saw at Gold River. We were completely unprepared
for what happened as we came out of Zuciarte Channel and around Anderson
Point heading toward Hanna Channel.
I had been vaguely aware of Luna, an orphaned orca who had been hanging
around in Nootka Sound, but I never expected this. I had heard that he
disabled a sailboat the year before but thought it was a fluke, that they
had been in some way trying to interact with the whale and he had
accidentally hit the rudder. I was not looking for Luna and never expected
Luna to come looking for me. I was stunned when Luna appeared out of
nowhere. We had not seen him blow or surface until he appeared right in
front of the boat. Now he was dogging the boat and going after the rudder.
I got on the radio and called Tofino Coast Guard for help. The radio
operator told me they were trying to contact someone from Fisheries and
Oceans Canada. We were fortunately opposite Mooyah Bay, which has a logging
camp and fish farm, when it happened. Tim Elliott, from the Grieg Seafood
fish farm, answered my distress call.
In the 15 minutes or more before Elliott arrived to help, I had to monitor
my crew and boat's safety while the whale pushed us around like a beach
ball. I told my crew to stay in the centre of the boat and away from the
I had to form a plan of action if the boat looked like it might go down or
onto the rocks. I did not want to harm the whale and knew that if I did I
would probably end up in a lot of trouble -- no matter how justified my
actions were. Despite Luna pushing my boat in circles we were able to rig
up a towline.
Once under tow, I was better able to assess the damage to my boat. A quick
check determined that the quadrant had broken. I figured that if we could
get away from the whale, I could make my way into Gold River, and then on
to Campbell River to find a welder.
I expected Luna to lose interest in my sailboat once I reached the dock at
the logging camp at Mooyah Bay, and planned to make repairs to my boat and
continue on my way. But over the next four hours I watched in growing
horror as Luna continued to harass my boat, going back over and over again
to swing the rudder around one way and then the other, banging it hard
against the propeller. The whale, which is about five metres long and
weighs over 1,360kg, would go out and push log booming boats around but
always came back to my boat.
My crew caught a ride in with the loggers to Gold River and made their way
back home. Staff at the logging camp allowed me to use their satellite
phone to call DFO, my insurance company and the Coast Guard, who I asked to
put out a Notice to Mariners.
DFO informed me that now that I was tied up to the dock, I was not allowed
to do anything to Luna to get him to leave my boat alone. Later that
afternoon, fisheries officer Ed Thorburn showed up and we watched the whale
push the rudder over and over again. I was beginning to worry about the
rudder coming out and the boat going down. Thorburn told me that while his
heart bled for me, he could do nothing. I asked him if I had to just stand
there and watch my boat sink if that is what it came to. He said yes and
tried, unsuccessfully, to lead the whale away with his boat as he left.
The loggers said they would try to tow me out the next day if they could.
They offered me a shower and coffee.
I learned that the whale was seen as a big pet by some and damned nuisance
by others. Early that evening, the whale followed a tug with a tow off up
The next morning, after being told Luna was probably up in another bay
where the tug was, I decided to try to get into Gold River on my own. I
rigged the emergency steering and headed out. I got no more than a few
hundred yards when the rudder was again hit hard, and the emergency tiller
bent. Luna was back and I was under attack again.
I didn't think the rudder would take much more of this and pulled the
emergency tiller up. I got on the radio again. This time the crew boat from
the logging camp towed me in -- the whale riding on the bow wave of the
huge aluminum boat. For another 12 hours the whale was at the back of my
boat at the rudder. When he was bored of the rudder, he'd start tossing my
dinghy around until I pulled it out of the water. He would go off for a few
minutes if another boat came in, but he always came back to my boat.
The loggers said they would try to get me out the next morning.
I was trying to get someone to come out from Gold River to tow me, but was
later told that people were afraid of Luna -- the natives and the pro-Luna
faction in town. Some people thought this incident might be the one that
forced DFO to act and no one wanted to be part of it.
I was now hearing lots of other stories of Luna damaging boats and some
amazing stories, such as the one about Luna dropping a salmon in a
fisherman's skiff. At one point someone from the logging camp came down and
borrowed my deck brush to scrub Luna's back. The Uchuck, the little coastal
freighter that plies this part of the coast, came by and the tourists
gawked, oohed and ahhed as Luna put on a show for them. They were thrilled
to see such a magnificent animal up so close, and in some ways I couldn't
But I was now just about beside myself with frustration and despair. It
looked to me like my rudder was starting to wobble. Some of the loggers
expressed sympathy and made plans to haul my boat over to the beach if it
started to go down. Others told me they would kill me if I did anything to
hurt the whale. This is all starting to seem like some kind of surreal
lunacy to me.
I called Coast Guard again to find out why there was still no Notice to
Mariners and was told their officials were in meetings with DFO. Finally I
was told the owner of the logging camp would come get me with his towboat
in the morning. I was beginning to realize how political all this was.
Later that day the Notice to Mariners was on the radio warning boaters to
avoid the area.
Donn Cox, the owner of Spirit Lake Timber, the company logging at Mooyah
Bay, arrived in his tug and we rigged up a side-by-side tow. There was no
sign of Luna during the two-hour tow into Gold River. As I arrived in Gold
River I had to deal with a TV reporter and calls from other reporters. The
next day boat surveyor Laurie Langill arrived and suggested trucking the
Over the next couple of days I watched Luna, who has turned up at the dock,
rubbing against and shoving around boats tied up in Gold River. He left my
boat alone until I and the crew from Nautech Industries tried to move it.
He hit the rudder hard again a few times. We used ropes to haul the boat
around, being careful Luna didn't manage to push the boat away from the dock.
A commercial fisherman showed up looking for me to tell me Luna disabled
his fish boat. Everyone in Gold River who has a boat seems to have stories
about Luna doing damage to it. No one has depth sounders that work -- Luna
has ripped off all the transducers. But there are also those thrilled to
have Luna there; tourists keep arriving looking for a way to see the
internationally famous "friendly killer whale of Nootka Sound." I watched
the whale try to knock the outboard off a small speedboat.
The boat movers finally showed up and my boat got hauled to Comox for repair.
Later, after a meeting with DFO where I showed them a video I took of the
encounter, John Ford told me he had seen orca attacks and believed this was
just play -- dysfunctional play by an orca that has no other orcas to play
with. He admitted the whale's actions were more focused and dangerous than
he had seen in the past.
I heard more stories about boats being damaged -- about five that week
alone, some quite seriously.
The damage to my boat was much more serious than we thought. The prop, prop
shaft and the strut were all bent. DFO announced they will put up more
signs, put out a brochure and pay the natives $5,000 a month to monitor the
whale. A few days later another commercial fish boat was damaged.
I hear from sources within the DFO that the plan is still to try to move
Luna to Pedder Bay and I am told it will take a "serious incident" before
they will consider the next options -- capture and an aquarium or, if that
does not work, euthanasia. More than a month and $10,000 later, my boat is
repaired and back in the water. I arranged to do a few speaking engagements
at yachting groups to warn people to give Nootka Sound, or wherever Luna
is, a very wide berth.
Go here to sign a petition
to support ways to help Luna. The petition will be presented to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), its US counterpart, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Mowachaht / Muchalaht First Nations.
Response to Vancouver Sun Op-ed below by Howard Garrett, Orca Network
Craig McInnis' treatment of the problems surrounding Luna, the not-so-little orca, (Let's face facts: Luna is a danger to human beings
) has a ring of common-sense and thoughtfulness to it, and I think it fairly represents prevailing opinions on what to do about Luna. The analogy of the nuisance bear is the model most people think of when they try to assess the situation.
The problem with that line of thinking is that orcas are far different from bears in some crucially important ways.
I understand that Luna is dangerous right now, even though there is no doubt he is just desperate for company, and sometimes a bit frustrated without it. The primary difference between orcas and bears, which may seem too subtle and invisible to appreciate, is that whereas bears operate largely on instinct and conditioned responses to food etc., orcas are members of specific cultures replete with traditions, social controls and rules of behavior. And Luna knows who he is. He just doesn't have any family members to guide his behavior, so he immoblizes helpless boaters for attention.
Here's where the solution to the problem comes in. That portrait of Luna may be hard to take in, but if Luna's cultural identity is accepted, a way to reduce or remove his mischief can be accomplished. He needs company, so give it to him. He won't "lose his fear of humans" because he never had any fear of humans, nor do any orcas fear humans. Certain, selected and trained people could be designated to keep Luna company, hold his interest and entertain him. I'm sure he'll be very creative, so it could be a challenge, but I'm sure people are up for it.
At some point there will be an opportunity to get Luna close to his family. Because he is a family member and will be remembered as such, there will be acceptance. I'm stating this as certainty fully aware that nobody really knows what might happen, but the vast weight of opinion is that it's too late for Luna to rejoin his family, or it will soon be, especially if we give him the company he craves. This is all based on the bear analogy, now known to be inadequate when trying to understand the behavior of an orca.
Let's face facts: Luna is a danger to human beings
Vancouver Sun (Canada.com)
September 02, 2004
If Luna were a bear, he would have been shot and killed long ago. Bears that lose their fear of humans and become a nuisance or a danger to the public are routinely dispatched in British Columbia by the hundreds each year.
But Luna is not a bear. Luna is an orca, which is the more socially acceptable name we have given killer whales in the past couple of decades.
Luna has not killed any humans yet, but the rapidly growing young whale has scared the bejesus out of more than one fisherman in Nootka Sound, while mauling their boats in the process.
The remarkable tolerance shown by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans toward Luna's dangerous behaviour reflects the radical makeover that has occurred in the public image of killer whales. No longer are they feared as the most efficient killing machines on the planet, capable of hunting in bloodthirsty packs to bring down the largest creatures in the ocean. Now the resident pods are viewed as docile, even fragile creatures that graze contentedly on salmon, while maintaining a life-long commitment to their families.
Marine mammal regulations that keep whale-watching boats from operating too close to pods are not there for the protection of bite-sized tourists, but to keep the whales from being overly harassed. In the same way that early studies of orcas quickly dispelled the stereotypical view of them as simply vicious killers, Luna may now be doing us all a service by stopping the pendulum of public opinion from swinging too far in the other direction.
Through his familiarity with humans, Luna is reminding us that killer whales are immensely powerful, wild creatures that should not be mixing with people, no matter how inspirational or awe inspiring they may be.
As a solitary juvenile whale, Luna is an oddity on the coast, where every resident whale has been catalogued over the past couple of decades. Luna was a member of the L pod. His mother is believed to be L67, known as Splash. He was born in September, possibly the 19th, in 1999. Two years later, he showed up by himself in Nootka Sound in July of 2001.
One theory is that he was with his uncle, Orcan, who died and he subsequently got lost. Since leaving his family, Luna has turned to people and their boats, apparently for amusement and companionship. It has not been a good surrogate, even though Luna seems quite satisfied to remain where he is.
Lately Luna has amused himself by smashing the rudders on boats and pushing them around. The boaters, some reasonably fearing for their lives, have not been so amused. Luna's solitary existence and his increasingly dangerous behaviour have severely tested our notions of how to react to resident killer whales.
A spokesman for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans says there is no protocol for killing a killer whale that has become a menace to people. That sad end has been made more probable by arguments over how to deal with the solitary whale. After blocking earlier attempts to capture and reunite Luna with his family, the local First Nations band has now signed a "joint stewardship plan," under which they will be paid to try to keep Luna and people apart.
The band believes the lonely whale embodies the spirit Ambrose Maquinna, a former chief of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht who died shortly before Luna appeared. The stewardship plan, which was obtained earlier this week by the CBC, may lessen tension between the DFO and the local band, but it will not solve the problem posed by Luna.
As it stands, DFO is warning boaters to watch out for a hazard they really can do nothing about. If Luna wants to play, he can outrun almost anything afloat and even a gentle caress from the giant mammal can make a pretzel out of a rudder. But even without malice, Luna is a threat to people in boats. He is now so accustomed to humans that simply relocating him so he can be reunited with his pod may not be enough.
As with bears that learn to like dining out on garbage, Luna may now have habits that will make him a menace wherever he goes.
It's time to take action on Luna
September 2, 2004 (Victoria Times Colonist - Op-Ed by Ryan Lejbak
) Ryan Lejbak is with the "reuniteluna" group. He wrote this with the support of Anon.org, Earth Island Institute International Marine Mammal Project, Free Willy Keiko Foundation, Luna Stewardship Project/Veins of Life Watershed Society, Orca Conservancy, orcagirl.com/ocean-society.com, Orca Network, OrcaLab/Pacific Orca Society, The Center for Whale Research, The Humane Society of the U.S., and The Whale Museum/Soundwatch.
Luna, the lone, friendly orca of Nootka Sound, is in trouble and needs help. Sensational news stories which focus on his encounters with boats have recently been published worldwide. They make much of the fear Luna has aroused in a few boaters. As a result, some people have called for Luna to be sent to an aquarium, or even killed.
Those options are neither acceptable nor necessary.
Many groups involved in the Luna saga believe there are better choices for Luna than captivity or killing.
Luna's friendliness toward people is unusual, but not unique. Whales and dolphins are social beings, and in the absence of their own kind they seek or accept substitutes, including humans.
Most stories about "solitaries" have disastrous endings. However, research shows that programs using boats with trained personnel to monitor the situation and prevent inappropriate human interactions are successful in protecting both people and solitary whales and dolphins.
Fortunately for Luna, the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have at last agreed to establish a full-time monitoring presence on the waters of Nootka Sound. We believe that such a presence is vital for Luna's survival.
However, we are concerned that the level of funding committed by the DFO is inadequate. Given the urgency, we hereby announce our willingness to assist in raising funds, and contribute equipment, volunteers, and scientific expertise to help make that effort successful.
Months of research we recently conducted on Luna's behaviour clearly indicate that he behaves pretty much like other orcas. He is a great hunter and he has a fabulous voice. He is not, in other words, abnormal. He is healthy, strong, playful. Certainly, he is missing the rich social life he would normally get from his family and community, but it is unfair to characterize him as "malicious" or to use words like "attack" in stories about him.
We believe that in the short term a strong monitoring and enforcement program will help address the immediate problems in Nootka Sound.
Additionally, we strongly urge that all organizations and individuals who care about Luna work together toward reuniting him with his family as soon as possible.
The southern resident community of orcas, to which Luna belongs, is also in serious trouble. Many of its members were captured in the 1970s for public display, and their numbers have declined significantly over the last decade. They are listed as endangered in Canada and in Washington state. Today their numbers stand at just 83.
Being endangered, Luna's community needs him. As a social creature, Luna needs his community. "Resident" orcas are among the most social beings on the planet. Individuals spend their entire lives within the family ("matriline") to which they are born. Luna's voice clearly identifies him as a member of the "L2" matriline, named after his grandmother. Knowing this, we fully expect that if Luna and members of his family hear one another, they will reunite.
This opinion is based on more than 30 years of orca observation, as well as the success of Springer, another solitary orca who was moved from the Seattle area to her home waters of northern Vancouver Island in 2002. Springer was welcomed back into her great aunt's matriline soon after her relocation. She is still with this family today, and has largely lost interest in boats. Last spring, before DFO's attempt to capture Luna in a net, we spent time and money attempting to achieve a more natural reunion, in which Luna would have been led toward his pod if it came near Nootka Sound.
First Nations approved our efforts. That attempt did not succeed, because Luna's pod did not come near Nootka Sound. However, we believe that such a natural reunion should be attempted again this fall, when Luna's pod travels back to the north.
This approach to reuniting Luna with his family simply holds the door open and offers him a choice. Orcas can hear each other through many kilometres of ocean, so if Luna's pod passes Nootka Sound it would be simple to offer him a choice by leading him just a short distance.
That lead-out might best be conducted by First Nations paddlers who have already established a powerful bond with Luna.
The Mowachaht-Muchalaht believe that Luna chose to come to Nootka Sound. He may choose to remain in Nootka Sound. But the door should not be closed on giving him the option of rejoining his family whenever the opportunities occur. Our conviction remains that Luna's survival depends on reuniting with his orca community.
A natural reunion will rely on both planning and luck. In order to improve the odds, Luna's pod should be tracked this fall as it leaves its summer waters.
It will not be easy to accomplish this, but for Luna's sake it should be tried.
The effort could also provide critical information that will help the recovery of the endangered southern resident population. We therefore urge DFO, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, and others to make the required effort.
We also urge the Mowachaht-Muchalaht people, who have shown courage and resolve in protecting Luna's freedom, to give him the additional freedom of choice if the opportunity arises.
As Chief Mike Maquinna said in a speech to his paddlers shortly before they took to their canoes to prevent Luna's capture: "It's not about us. It's about the whale."
Petitions supporting Luna's reunion, and urging DFO and First Nations to work together to protect Luna in the meantime, are at www.reuniteluna.com and www.anon.org.
Maturing orca endangers boats
August 28, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer
) 'Stewardship plan' aims to ease contact between Luna, public
Days after Luna, the lonely killer whale, damaged three boats during separate encounters off Vancouver Island's west coast, a Canadian fisheries official said yesterday that his agency will issue a formal "stewardship plan" early next week that spells out ways to ease contact between the public and the wayward orca.
In late June and early July, the Canadian fisheries agency's efforts were thwarted by the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation, a local band that regards Luna as the embodiment of its late chief. During efforts to lead the orca into a holding pen for capture, members of the band paddled canoes nearby, leading the whale out to sea.
Since scrapping its plans, the fisheries agency is now negotiating with the tribe on a cooperative agreement for the whale, which remains undecided.
To some, though, such as environmental activist Fred Felleman, president of the Seattle-based Orca Conservancy, the Canadian agency "should have had active management in place" to deal with such issues much earlier.
Radford, the fisheries manager, yesterday disputed criticisms such as Felleman's, saying his agency and the tribe have made great efforts to educate the public about Luna. He noted "there have been a number of non-interactions" between Luna and boaters because of such action.
The tribe has posted warning signs, has restricted some dock access and has distributed brochures to the public about the whale, Radford said. And Fisheries and Oceans continually issues radio broadcasts over maritime frequencies, he said.
Still, Luna continues to seek out contact. And his latest encounters were highly publicized in Canadian media reports.
The Victoria Times Colonist carried an Aug. 21 story headlined, "Growing ever more wild, Luna menaces gillnetters." And The (Vancouver) Province characterized the whale's recent 12-hour encounter with a sailboat as an "attack."
Luna's frolics leave fisherman all at sea
August 28, 2004 (Toronto Globe and Mail
August 20, 2004
Hello Chief Maquinna,
In light of the recent information that has come out this week concerning Luna and his interactions with boats, I'm sorry to say that I don't believe that monitoring and public education will be enough to keep Luna safe. Clearly, his loneliness and want for social interaction is an additional issue that monitoring alone cannot solve.
I truly understand your concern and wish that Luna reunite with his pod on his own. For everyone who cares about Luna, and more importantly for Luna himself, this would be best. For whatever reason or circumstance, this hasn't happened. Luna cannot find his way back to the pod on his own, they haven't found him on their own and each year that Luna has spent in Nootka Sound has cost him more of his wildness. I am concerned and frightened that any more time away from his own family, his own culture and all that can teach and remind him what it is to be wild and truly free will be lost to him forever. It's an awful reality that we've come closer to as these last 3 years have passed. That along with the time that's yet to come for Luna living without the nurturing family structure that is natural to him, brings this reality closer still.
I also understand the importance that your family and your people feel for Luna in your traditions. The majesty and grace of these animals is a true gift to behold and you are so privileged and blessed to have such a rich history with them. Their role in your culture is honorable and profoundly moving but in saying this, I cannot help but feel a deep sadness. Your people have such high regard and respect for Luna and all Killer Whales but in traveling your path of sorrow for the loss of your Father, a path I have traveled myself, Luna's culture and his need seems to have become secondary to your own. I say this with no disrespect to you or your people but with genuine concern for Luna and what is happening to him. Your thoughts and beliefs of what brought Luna to Nootka Sound differ from my own but the reverence for him that we both feel, is the same. The bond and familial uniqueness these animals hold for one another is the foundation of their lives, what keeps them continuing and filling the ocean with their own songs. With all due respect to you, I believe deeply that this is more important than any feeling that we can have for them. They enter our world for a moment, but they are the world to one another for all time.
Human emotions have run high, angry words have passed and feelings have been hurt over the difficulty that Luna has found himself in and what can be done to help him. With much sadness, the importance of Luna's existence has become lost in the struggle of opposing opinions. As time for discussion passes for us, Luna's need for companionship, attention and affection increases, often putting him in great danger. He has obvious physical and emotional need for what we as humans cannot give him, while his family lacks the rich contribution that his inclusion to their society would bring. Luna has a role to play within that society that's more than simply additional genetics. It's the strength of their life bond that keeps them together through generations and their inherent need for one another that gives them the natural, peaceful rhythm of their lives. As difficult as it is for us to know what fills Luna heart and mind we do know that the life he leads now, alone and without the companionship of his own kind, is not a normal or healthy existence for a Killer Whale who was born to the culture and society that he was.
I sincerely ask that you join together with DFO and the NGO's to help Luna by returning him to the life he was meant to have, to the society he needs that also needs him. Luna cannot find his way back to his family on his own. It's not a path he knows to travel alone. His life is worth this effort and the sooner he can be reintegrated with his pod, the more stable and natural his life will be. I understand if you cannot join in the effort but I beg you, if you can't, please don't stand in opposition of it. Luna grows bigger, stronger and bolder just as a healthy male Killer Whale should. But in doing so, he also finds greater danger by depending on the companionship of human beings. Luna's need should be the most important issue that's considered. We have our families and each other from which to draw strength and solace when we are in need. Right now, Luna has no one. Please, reconsider your desire that Luna remain in Nootka Sound and that he have no assistance to find his way back to where he belongs. It will be devastating to us all if Luna should perish when we had the chance to help him but didn't. Returning Luna to his family is the right thing to do, for Luna, if not for us.
Peace be upon you.
Luna SHALL Be Free@Sea!!
Growing ever more wild, Luna menaces gillnetters
August 21, 2004 (Victoria Times Colonist
) Fears are growing that Luna the lonely orca will be harmed by an angry or frightened boater or that the whale will accidentally hurt or kill someone on the water after a week of orca mayhem.
A gillnet fishery in Nootka Sound, off Vancouver Island's west coast, was thrown into disarray and two gillnet boats disabled by Luna Wednesday evening.
The thousands of dollars of damage to the commercial fishing boats and loss of fishing time for the owners came the day after Luna broke the rudder off an expensive sailboat and continued to play with the disabled vessel for 12 hours.
But, so far, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans says it has no plans to embark on another capture attempt and a yet-to-be-signed joint stewardship program with the Mowachaht-Muchalaht band will continue as the main method of managing the wayward whale.
Greg Savard, DFO director of conservation and protection, said he hopes the stewardship agreement will be signed next week, but in the meantime, some elements are already in place.
A brochure is being distributed on the Gold River dock by First Nations, more signs have been put up warning people to stay away from Luna and marine advisories are going out on the vessel traffic channel and the weather channel, he said.
Gillnetters in the area have had only five days fishing this year so far, so the loss of the day's fishing for the boats broken by Luna is a huge hardship, said Les Rombaugh, president of the Area D Gillnetters Association.
The next fishing opening for the gillnet fleet in Nootka Sound is likely to be in October, for a chum salmon fishery.
More has to be done to protect fishermen, recreational boaters and the whale, Rombaugh said.
"I think we have a very serious problem here. I'm afraid someone is going to get killed or someone will kill him," he said.
Most fishermen realize the orca is playing, but, financial consequences are escalating and people in small recreational boats may feel they are threatened, Rombaugh said. "It would be along self-defence lines."
The chinook fishery this week was a good one and anyone who missed out is probably looking at a $10,000 loss in addition to the cost of repairing the boat, he said.
Most of the gillnet boats are about 13 metres long and travel between 12 and 15 knots, but Luna was able to keep up, said one observer. Boats would set off at top speed attempting to get away, but Luna apparently regarded it as part of the game, said Rombaugh.
In June, DFO and scientists from the Vancouver Aquarium teamed up in an effort to catch four-year-old Luna in a net pen and truck him to Pedder Bay to reunite him with his pod.
But the plan was scuttled after members of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht, who believe the whale embodies the spirit of their dead chief, led Luna away from the net pen with canoes.
Chief Mike Maquinna could not be contacted Friday.
Savard said the question of Luna's future will be revisited this fall, although no date has been set. Options could include another shot at relocation.
In the meantime, although DFO is concerned about the safety of the whale and the public, liability does not fall on any particular group, he said.
"We look at this as a wild animal that we don't necessarily have any control over," he said. But, as Luna's love of boats intensifies, the chance of a successful reunion with his family is shrinking and fears are growing that he could end up in an aquarium.
Clint Wright, Vancouver Aquarium vice-president, who helped organize the aborted relocation, said he does not believe it is viable for Luna to remain in Nootka Sound, but it is increasingly unlikely he will give up his boat habit, even if he is with other whales.
"Whales don't live in a Disney sort of world and people who know whales say he will keep doing these behaviours over and over again," Wright said.
Wright is worried that Luna or a boater will get hurt. "It really is an accident waiting to happen . . . We all want a happy ending, but it's beginning to look like a dead end," he said.
B.C. First Nation proposing plan for Luna
July 8, 2004 (Globe and Mail
) A B.C. First Nation is proposing a stewardship plan for a nuisance whale in Vancouver Island's Nootka Sound.
The Mowachaht-Muchalaht band wants to take the lead role in keeping Luna the lonely killer whale from interfering with boats and floatplanes.
Natives envision daily canoe patrols of Luna's habitat until mid-September.
Band leaders plan to meet tomorrow with the RCMP and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to discuss the orca's future.
The natives have been involved in a tug-of-war with the department over its plans to relocate the whale.
The DFO wants to capture and truck the whale to southern Vancouver Island, with the aim of reuniting Luna with his U.S.-based pod.
The natives believe the five-year-old whale embodies the spirit of a former chief.
A whale's story begs good ending
July 5, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial
) We see the makings of a nautical soap opera: A lost orca and its pod.
In every episode there's a dramatic new twist to what was once a simple plot -- help a lost orca find its way back to its pod.
The story so far:
Luna, the overly friendly killer whale, has been declared a danger to himself and to the public. So, Canadian fisheries officials have been trying to relocate the 5-year-old orca some 200 miles south where he can hook up with his pod.
This plot -- simple as it sounds -- has become awfully complicated.
First there's the issue of a Native Canadian band because they don't want the whale captured. A native band believes Luna, who appeared in Nootka Sound in 2001 after separating from his pod, embodies the spirit of its late chief.
Then there's the love interest. Too many people "love" Luna in inappropriate ways. Just last week the friendly whale broke off a sailboat rudder in Mooyah Bay. Before that, Luna surfaced near a landing floatplane -- and he has become "dangerously friendly" with boats and people. All reasons to make the pod whole in far-off waters.
The problems raised by Canadian Native groups can be resolved -- and they should be, quickly. But that means true partnership -- listening to the concerns and finding solutions that work for Luna as well as for the other parties.
This story deserves a happy ending.
Danger issue grows after Luna damages boat
July 2, 2004 (Victoria Times Colonist
) Luna, the orca in Nootka Sound who has been the subject of a tug-of-whale between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation, has disabled a saiboat in the middle of Mooyah Bay.
The solitary killer whale, who has developed an affinity for boats and planes because he does not have other whales to play with, broke the rudder off the Georgia Dawn on Wednesday morning, meaning the boat could not be steered.
The coast guard responded to the incident and the boat was towed into the nearby Tuta Marina by the Wi-Hut-Suh-Nup, an aluminium boat belonging to the Mowachaht-Muchalaht.
Luna's behaviour has again raised fears about how the playful orca can be controlled as boating season picks up in Nootka Sound.
DFO decided earlier this year that the four-year-old orca should be caught, transported to Pedder Bay and released when his pod was within acoustic range, because he had become a danger to himself and the public.
However, the plans went awry because the natives, who believe Luna embodies the spirit of their dead chief Ambrose Maquinna, lured the orca away from the net pen in their canoes.
The plans are on hold until DFO and the Mowachaht-Muchalaht come to some agreement on the future of the whale.
The natives want to lead Luna down the west coast of Vancouver Island in their canoes to rejoin his pod.
DFO spokeswoman Lara Sloan said Luna's disabling of the sailboat is a reminder to everyone why it was decided to move him.
"This is not unusual behaviour for him and it is the reason why we wanted to go ahead with the relocation in the first place," she said. "He is a public danger."
Sloan said DFO wants to remind everyone to keep as far away from Luna as possible and not habituate him to human contact any more than he already is.
Shirley Andrews, owner and manager of the Tuta Marina, referring to the sailboat incident, said, "This happened last year as well and it's why I would really like to see him reunited with his pod.
"He's a baby. He's just playing. He doesn't mean to be a danger, but he is."
Luna also dislikes fish finders, ripping them off boats even if they are turned off.
"They emit some kind of wave which he doesn't like," Andrews said.
However, there are ways to avoid Luna when you are out in a boat, she said.
"You simply accelerate out of there and get away. If you happen to be fishing, you crank your motor and back out of there."
Luna the whale breaks boat's rudder
July 2, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer
) An overly friendly young killer whale that Canadian fisheries officials have been trying to relocate has disabled a sailboat.
Luna broke the rudder off a sailboat in Mooyah Bay on Wednesday. The Canadian coast guard responded, and the boat was towed into a nearby marina by an aluminum boat belonging to local Indians.
The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans decided earlier this year that, because Luna was a danger to himself and the public, the orca should be caught, relocated to a bay 200 miles south of here near Victoria, then released when his U.S. relatives were close enough for him to hear their calls.
But the plan was put on hold last week after a dispute escalated with local Indians who don't want the 5-year-old whale captured.
They believe the whale embodies the spirit of their late chief.
Luna's rescue turns into a tug of war
July 1, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer
) What started out as a well-intentioned rescue mission -- to capture a killer whale stranded in British Columbia and reunite him with his Puget Sound relatives -- has dissolved into a public-relations nightmare.
Forced to suspend the operation a week ago after running into stiff resistance from local Indians, Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans is now being chastised by members of its own international advisory panel.
The plan to capture the orca, named Luna, was abruptly called off after a band of Vancouver Island Indians derailed the effort for more than a week by entering Nootka Sound in dugout canoes and drawing the whale to them by making a racket -- singing and banging paddles.
Critics say the aquatic tug of war waged by the Mowachaht/Muchalaht band with the government may have been averted had First Nation representatives been included in the planning process, as recommended.
"The band has a legitimate grievance here," said Paul Spong, a member of the advisory panel and executive director of OrcaLab, a B.C.-based research group.
The band's chief, Mike Maquinna, has offered to lead Luna down the Vancouver coast in canoes to reunite him with his family. He wants to see the original plan scrapped and the process started over.
Some of the advisory panel's scientists also supported the idea of leading Luna by boat.
"That was my plan from the beginning," said Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Friday Harbor-based Center for Whale Research. Catching Luna in a pen "wasn't the preferred way, as far as I was concerned. I don't think there was a consensus."
"I didn't see any threat to people," Balcomb said of past visits to see Luna. "He's in total control of himself and what he's pushing around."
Besides, he said, there are still relatives out in the ocean that could swim past Luna's location and possibly entice him back.
Luna rescue called off for now
June 25, 2004 (Bremerton Sun
) Luna, the wayward killer whale, will stay put in Nootka Sound for the time being.
Maquinna said he hoped renewed negotiations would make things go more smoothly.
"The strength of our people was more apparent than anything," Maquinna said. "Our wish is that Tsuxiit is treated with respect."
The chief said he still supports the idea of leading the whale by canoe on a 140-mile journey down the west coast of Vancouver Island to meet up with his pod, but he is open to other ideas. His main objections have been to placing Luna in a net pen, moving him by truck and attaching a tracking device with pins through his dorsal fin.
"We'll get some rest and start talking next week," he said.
Plan to reunite Luna with whale pod is put on hold
June 25, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer
) Plans to capture Luna and reunite the lone orca with his family in Puget Sound were postponed indefinitely yesterday by the Canadian government in hopes of settling differences with Indians opposing the action.
"We have had a number of discussions with them and have attempted to accommodate their needs and views in our operations," the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said in a statement.
"It is evident however, that further discussions are required, and in the interest of public safety and the well-being of the whale, we will be meeting with First Nations over the coming days to review options."
Members of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht band believe that a deceased chief spiritually inhabits the 4-year-old male orca, which arrived in their waters off Vancouver Island three years ago -- about the time of the chief's death.
Leaders of the band say they were not included in the planning of the capture and attempted reunification, which they find disrespectful.
Luna story takes on political overtones
June 24, 2004 (Bremerton Sun
) Canadian government officials temporarily called off the tug-of-war involving Luna, a young killer whale on Nootka Sound. But the political and legal battle appears to be heating up rapidly.
Due to conflicts on the water, attempts to rescue Luna were halted Wednesday, but said Marilyn Joyce of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans the operations could resume at any time.
But local First Nations people say the whale, who they call Tsuxiit, should be allowed to swim free. Many believe Luna embodies the spirit of their dead chief, who passed away less than a week before Luna showed up in Nootka Sound. Keeping the whale in a net pen and moving him on a flatbed truck is especially offensive, they say.
With singing and drumming, the local natives of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht Band, or tribe, on several occasions managed to lead the whale away from the capture area, while fisheries officers keep trying to lure him back toward the pen.
Meanwhile, Mike Maquinna, chief of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht Band, has written letters the past two days to high officials in the Canadian government, asking that their aboriginal rights and beliefs be respected.
One letter specifically demands that Joyce be replaced as coordinator of the Luna relocation project. Maquinna said he has lost faith in her ability to communicate with him, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht people and the larger tribal government.
Maquinna said Joyce told reporters that the chief had agreed to a 500-meter exclusion zone for First Nations paddlers, but Maquinna says he did not.
"We are extremely concerned for the welfare of this whale that otherwise is perfectly safe in Nootka Sound if the public is kept away," he wrote.
Luna still elusive, stays near Indian canoes
June 24, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer
) Luna continued to elude his Canadian captors yesterday, swimming with canoes paddled by Vancouver Island Indians who oppose plans to catch the wayward killer whale.
Members of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht, a neighboring band, claim the spirit of a deceased chief inhabits the orca. Since the capture attempts began last week, they have taken to canoes, singing and pounding their paddles to lure the orca away.
On Tuesday, officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were able to repeatedly lead Luna with motorboats into underwater net pens.
But each time, the 4-year-old orca slipped out before the net was closed. It appeared that Luna, known scientifically as L-98, thought the exercise was a game. He would even push the lead boat into the pen and then escape.
At one point, he corralled three boats into his presumptive cage before slipping away.
Capture efforts are expected to resume today, and government officials and Indian leaders are still in negotiations.
Elusive Luna remains free
June 23, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer
) Close, but no capture.
The elusive lone orca nicknamed Luna remained free last night, swimming in and out of an underwater net pen off the northwest coast of British Columbia's Vancouver Island before swimming off to join nearby Indians paddling canoes.
Canadian officials hope to capture him and house him temporarily in the pen before attempting to reunite the 4-year-old killer whale with relatives in Puget Sound.
Federal fisheries and Vancouver Aquarium officials called off their efforts for the night, but said they would start again today.
"We're getting reports every day that his family is swimming past the mouth of Pedder Bay," Clint Wright, aquarium operations vice president, said of the area where scientists hope to reunite Luna with his pod.
"Every day counts, really," said Wright, still wearing his wet suit. He said the crew allowed about 10 days for the capture and has used about half that.
Since the government set out to capture the orca a week ago, a local Indian band that opposes the plan has been out on the water, singing and pounding paddles on their canoes to lure the whale. The Native Canadians believe a deceased chief spiritually inhabits Luna, which arrived alone in their waters three years ago.
Canadian and U.S. government officials have been working on the relocation plan for months, driven by increasing concerns about the gregarious whale's safety. Film footage of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht band taken last week shows members patting and scratching the orca's head as it nuzzled up to their canoes.
"We've been blessed and honored in his presence and that he's (decided) to come with us," the Indian band's current chief, Mike Maquinna, said last night. "Obviously we are not going to stay here, we are going to head out in the opposite direction of the holding pen."
Luna plays hard to get
June 23, 2004 (Bremerton Sun
) After a frantic day of cat and mouse on the wind-tossed waters of Nootka Sound, Luna swam away from the capture pen that he had entered several times late Tuesday afternoon.
In the end, Luna went back to a pair of canoes, in which the native paddlers were singing and drumming and doing their best to draw him away.
Luna seemed to be enjoying the game. He often pushed the lead boat inside and then escaped. Once, he had all three boats inside the pen before making his getaway.
"As we sat here and talked and regrouped, I told the people how proud I am," Maquinna said.
"Generation after generation," Maquinna said, "we have learned that you don't play with nature."
Luna still eluding would-be captors
June 18, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer
) For a second day, an orca stranded on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island eluded the Canadian captors who are trying to reunite him with his Puget Sound family.
Luna followed an inflatable Canadian fisheries department boat about halfway back toward a series of underwater net pens yesterday, but stopped to eat salmon in his favorite bay, said John Nightingale, president of the Vancouver Aquarium, which is conducting the operation.
Luna remained in the bay into the evening, Nightingale said.
On Wednesday, the 4-year-old killer whale was lured out to sea and away from the net pens by local Indians in dugout canoes. The Mowachaht-Muchalaht band opposes the capture, with members convinced they share a spiritual connection with the orca.
Local Indians lure Luna out to sea
June 17, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer
) Luna headed out to sea off the northwest coast of Vancouver Island with a group of local Indians paddling dugout canoes.
Native Canadians claiming a spiritual connection to the lonely orca lured him away in an attempt to prevent his capture -- the first stage of a planned reunion with his Puget Sound relatives.
Local orcas have about 35 sounds -- screeches and moans -- in their vocabulary. Each maternal group, which includes mothers and their offspring, has specific calls and sounds are shared within pods, Osborne said.
The hope is that Luna will recognize their conversation as coming from his pod while it travels around the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan Islands and up around the mouth of the Fraser River and Georgia Strait. The animals swim about a hundred miles a day.
Scientists and orca enthusiasts closely track the resident killer whales when they're in inland waters, sharing information on the Orca Network
. When the network observes Luna's pod within range, the orca -- which will be tagged so his movements can be tracked -- will be released.
Hey! Where you going with that whale?
June 17, 2004 (Bremerton Sun
) As authorities were preparing to capture Luna, members of a local native band — believing they are protecting the whale — led him 20 miles away.
It wasn’t a protest, insisted Mike Maquinna, leader of the First Nations band.
“We’re with him to protect him,” he said. “It’s not about us. It’s all about the whale.”
The Canadian government’s rescue plan calls for Luna to follow a boat into a net pen. Following a medical evaluation, Luna was to be taken by truck to Pedder Bay, west of Victoria, where he would be released when his family group comes nearby.
But Maquinna said his people have developed a deep spiritual connection to Luna, who they call “Tsuxiit.”
Their tradition holds that their dead leaders may return to this world as wolves or killer whales. The former chief, Ambrose Maquinna, had expressed a desire to return to Nootka Sound as a killer whale and help deal with what he felt was an intrusion of commercial fish farms in the area. Ambrose was Mike Maquinna’s father.
Within a week of his father’s death, Maquinna said, Luna showed up in Nootka Sound.
“He’s here for a reason,” he told The Sun. “Maybe he’s meant to start a family of his own here.”
Canadian Indians use canoes to thwart scientists' efforts to capture lonely killer whale
June 17, 2004 (Enviromental News Service
Luna Capture Updates 12:07 PST
June 16, 2004 (ReuniteLuna.com
) We have received reports that Vancouver Aquarium staff will attempt to lead Luna into the pen around 2:00 pm this afternoon (8:54 PST)
Canoes paddled by members of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation are out on the waters of Nootka Sound this morning. (9:57 PST)
The reason for the delay is to ensure the net pen is ready and to wait for one member of the capture team to get to Gold River. (10:00 PST)
CBC NewsWorld reports that First Nations have led Luna 7 kms down the Muchalaht Inlet - he is following their 2 canoes, away from the net pen (11:47 PST)
Capture likely put on hold for today because Luna is too far away from the net pen, according to CBC News (12:08 PST)
Note: We will do our best to update this page as we receive news. If there are no new updates for a while it is because nothing has changed.
June 10, 2004
LUNA (L98) UPDATE
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre has been authorized to begin the physical relocation of Luna by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).
After looking at the movements of L-pod over the past few weeks, and confirming that plans are in place to proceed, DFO approved the initiation of Phase II, the physical relocation. Public safety and the safety of the whale remain the priorities. Recent incidences in Gold River where L98 interfered with floatplanes and boats, affirms that the situation needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Sightings of L-pod in the Juan de Fuca Strait and Haro Strait over the past few weeks indicate that the pod has returned to the area for the summer, and the chances for a natural reunification of L98 to L-pod are no longer viable.
Vancouver Aquarium staff continue to prepare the site and operational logistics for the safe capture, holding, and care of Luna (L98).
Although all required funds are not in hand at this point, DFO and the Aquarium agree there are sufficient funds to begin the capture and transport of Luna to Pedder Bay. Overall funding needs ultimately depend on how long Luna is held in Pedder Bay before acoustical contact is made with his pod, and he can be released. If this period is relatively short, the current funding provided will be sufficient.
As this time frame is impossible to predict, DFO and the Aquarium will continue to seek funding, even as the operation proceeds. Donations can be made to 1-800-663-0562, or on-line at www.vanaqua.org/mmrr/luna
The US and Canadian Governments have each committed $130K, $60K in cash has been donated, and there has been $290K in in-kind donations. Given the situation with Luna in Gold River, DFO and the Aquarium believe the operation must proceed immediately.
The plan involves leading Luna into a net pen; this is likely to take place over several days, as time is needed to allow Luna to get used to the log booms, boat and other parts of the operation. Success will depend, in part, on having a quiet and normal environment. For this reason, an exclusion zone for boats and aircraft will be in place.
A media update will be provided each day by the capture team describing what was attempted and accomplished that day.
While it is hoped that Luna will reunite with his family group and no longer be a risk to the public, scientists agree that, while a successful reintroduction cannot be guaranteed, this is the best approach to give Luna the opportunity to reunite with his pod, while protecting public.
The best way the public can help Luna is to stay away. If he is distracted by boats, aircraft or people, his chances for reuniting with his family group may be compromised.
For more information, please contact:
Orcas touch base in U.S., then leave again
June 1, 2004 (Bremerton Sun
) About 30 orcas, including Luna's mother and his younger sibling, took a quick jaunt into U.S. waters Saturday, but by Sunday night they were headed back out to sea.
As a result, plans to reunite Luna with his family remain on hold, officials say.
Luna's family had not been seen in Puget Sound since last fall — which is fairly typical for two of the three Puget Sound groups, or pods. K and L pods spend their winters on the outer coast.
Luna, a 4-year-old killer whale, has been alone for nearly three years in Nootka Sound along the West Coast of Vancouver Island.
Ken Balcomb and Dave Ellifrit of the Center for Whale Research spent most of the day Sunday with the 30 members of L-Pod that came south along the eastern shore of Vancouver Island and approached the San Juan Islands.
Lara Sloan, spokeswoman for the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said a group of orca handlers has moved to the town of Gold River on Nootka Sound to prepare a net pen for Luna's capture, but that operation remains on hold. Everyone hopes the boat-follow method can succeed, she said.
Howard Garrett of Orca Network, a group that keeps track of whale sightings, said several organizations of orca supporters are expressing reservations about some elements of the capture-and-truck plan.
For example, tying a rope around Luna's tail to force him into the net pen — listed as a last resort in the rescue plan — could result in injury, Garrett said.
Also, attaching a tracking transmitter by inserting a steel pin through Luna's dorsal fin could cause him harm. And the idea that Luna might end up in an aquarium if he fails to take up with his family weighs on everyone's mind, he said.
Garret said several groups hope to clear up these kinds of issues before the rescue moves forward.
"Most of the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) find the capture option to be distasteful," Garrett said.
Canadian and U.S. officials have agreed that the rescue should move forward because Luna, who appears to be lonely, has been pushing against boats, which could lead to a serious accident.
Garrett said the 30 or so L-Pod whales that returned to the San Juans Saturday may have found too little fish for their needs. Salmon runs in the islands are expected to increase soon.
"We're still hoping they (Luna's relatives) will go by Nootka Sound and pick up a passenger," he said.
Keep an eye out for Luna's pod: officials
May 12, 2004 (Vancouver Province
) U.S. and Canadian officials working on a whale reunification plan are asking boaters to keep an eye out for Luna's pod.
The killer whale has been living alone in Nootka Sound off Vancouver Island for more than two years.
The orca's relatives are expected to return from the Pacific Ocean to inland waters around Washington's San Juan Islands within weeks.
But fisheries officials told a meeting of about 50 whale advocates in Seattle last night that nobody has seen the pod yet.
Luna has managed to feed himself in Nootka Sound but has also taken to socializing with people, cozying up to boats and nuzzling sea planes.
The U.S. and Canadian Navy, along with coast guard vessels, are also being asked to report any sightings of the so-called 'L' pod.
It's hoped the reunion can take place by June.
If you have any information or a suspected sighting, contact 1-866-ORCANET (672-2638), or via E-Mail
For all the news on Luna, see ReuniteLuna.com
Desperately Seeking L pod!
Report whale sightings to: 1-866-ORCANET
Orca Network would like to receive whale sightings, especially orca sightings.
Our Whale Sighting Network covers US & Canadian waters year-round, but at this time we are particularly looking for L pod sightings off the BC, Canada and Washington Coast. We are working with other organizations and agencies to get more whale reports from the west Vancouver Island and coastal areas to help determine the winter/spring travel patterns of the Southern Resident Community of orcas, and to help in the effort to rejoin Luna/L98 with L pod, who may be traveling those waters during the spring.
If you have or know of a business or public bulletin board where flyers could be posted with our whale sighting number, please email us at E-Mail
and we'll email you a flyer to print out and post.
The lone orca calf Luna has been in Nootka Sound for several years, somehow separated from his pod. There are efforts by Canada's Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans and the US NOAA Fisheries to reunite Luna with his family this summer. The best plan would be to get Luna in acoustical contact with L pod if/when they are near Nootka Sound. However, we rarely get sightings from west Vancouver Island, and we have few reports on L pod's travels during the winter and spring, so we are asking for your help. Information on the winter travels of K and L pods are also the focus of recent research efforts in the US and Canada, so any orca sightings year-round are appreciated.
If you see any orcas, please call us toll-free at: 1-866-ORCANET or email us at: E-Mail
. We are also happy to receive sightings of any kind of whale, in any NW location as well! If you would like to be on our Whale Sighting Network Email list, contact us at the above email address, or sign up on our website.
For more information on Orca Network's Whale Sighting Network, go to: www.orcanetwork.org
For more information about Luna, go to www.reuniteluna.com
Thank you for your help
Susan Berta & Howard Garrett
May 6, 2004
For immediate release
Solitary orca Luna doing well in Nootka Sound
New fish farms could threaten natural reunion
A research project conducted over the past two months has been observing Luna, the orca whale who has been living alone in Nooka Sound for nearly 3 years, with a view to assessing his behaviour in the absence of summertime recreational vessels. The OrcaLab study has the approval of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation and operates under a Scientific Licence issued by Canadas Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). The project is supported by a coalition of Canadian and US non governmental organizations. Results show Luna to be a normal orca fully capable of managing on his own.
Luna is a great hunter and is certainly able to make a living by himself,said OrcaLabs director Dr. Paul Spong. He sounds like a normal orca and in most respects he behaves like a normal orca; he even has a social life though its an odd one in that its with sea lions and not other orcas. He knows every detail of the scene in Nootka Sound. Were it not for the summer boating season Luna would be fine living on his own and could take his own time finding his way back to his orca community.
The problem for Luna is that summer is coming. By the end of June Nootka Sound will again be crowded with recreational vessels. On them will be many people who want to see Luna, and among them some who want to engage Luna as if he were a pet or a captive whale. Thats the biggest problem Luna faces,said Spong. Were it not for people wanting to engage Luna, I think he could carry on by himself without getting into trouble. At four years old he is maturing rapidly and is definitely capable of handing himself around boats. If people could learn to leave Luna alone and just ignore him, hed probably be ok. Of course, given what happened last summer, thats probably unrealistic.
OrcaLabs research approach with Luna is the same at that of its Johnstone Strait project, observation without intrusion. An observation camp site was established on a high cliff and two hydrophone stations installed. The hydrophones have enabled day and night monitoring of Lunas acoustics in the main areas he has been spending time. Over 60 hours of recordings have been made. Luna has a fabulous voice that echoes through the deeps of Nootka Sound,said Spong. His calls clearly identify him as a southern resident orca and more precisely as a member of the L2 matriline. That means with virtual certainty that L67 is Lunas mother, and because she is alive it gives great hope for the ultimate outcome of Lunas journey, should he rejoin his orca kin.
The winter whereabouts of much of the southern resident orca community are largely a mystery to scientists. The largest group, L pod, is often not sighted for months on end. During the winter and spring. However, the summer arrival of L pod is fairly predictable. The group of more than 40 orcas usually arrives in the waters off southern Vancouver Island in late spring, and their arrivalis usually from the north via west coastal waters off Vancouver Island. There is a good chance the pod will be off the entrance of Nootka Sound sometime during mid to late May. If that happens, there is a possibility that Luna could hear the other orcas or they could hear him, and that a naturalreunion could take place. Luna has been spending much of his recent time foraging in parts of Nootka Sound that have an acoustic connection to the outside ocean,said Spong. That means there is a chance that he and the other orcas could solve Lunas problem by themselves. If that happens, everyone will be happy.
Despite his positive view of Lunas behaviour and his hopes for a rosy outcome, Spong is worried by the imminent installation of 8 new fish farms in Nootka Sound. The farms are going to be placed in the exact area Luna has been using lately,said Spong. This means there will be a whole new set of industrial activities in the area that is now most important to Luna, and it is the area that creates such good prospects for a natural reunion. Luna is accustomed to industrial activity, but this will be a new part of his scene and because it is new it will be a distraction to him. I simply cannot understand why these fish farms have to be installed at this critical time. They could ruin Lunas chances of success.
Dr. Paul Spong/Helena Symonds (250)974-8068, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Audio clips and still photographs available for emailing on request.
Mowachaht/Muchalaht meet with DFO
by Brian Tate
Ha-Shilth-Sa Northern Region Reporter
April 22, 2004
Tsaxana - Marilyn Joyce of DFO and Clint Wright of the Vancouver Aquarium met with Tyee Hawiilth Mike Maquinna and his council on April 8th in Tsaxana to discuss issues surrounding the plans to remove Tsuux-iit (Luna) in May or June.
"Over the past couple years we have had discussions on Tsuux-iit (Luna) and the plans to move him back to his family and we have been pleased on the work that has been done between our two groups," said Marilyn Joyce. "In your letter you have expressed that you are opposed to the plans and I very much respect that. As people we sometimes overstep our boundary in regards to wildlife," said Marilyn.
Jerry Jack then explains how the late Chief Ambrose expressed what he would like to come back as when he goes home. "When I go home, I want to come back as a Kaka win, Ambrose said to me," said Jerry. "That's what happened, this whale showed up shortly after his passing," said Jerry.
"This whale is not going anywhere as long as we are here, he is healthy and we would like nature to take its course," said Jerry with a heavy sigh.
Marilyn replied to Jerry's remarks with "Our first inclination was the same as yours to let him stay, once it was determined that he was healthy I agreed. But my concern is his safety and the safety of the people, you and I know better to leave him alone but there are others that would harm him. Who knows if he will be accepted or not by his pod. And who knows if he came here as your late chief to be with you, but he has done well by bringing us closer at the table," said Marilyn.
Questions of "What if" started to rise towards DFO and Vancouver Aquarium. "What if he doesn't take to his pod, then what?" asked Mike Maquinna. "What if he plays with the boats down there, then what?"
Marilyn Joyce responded with, "I have to come up with a plan if he does not take to his pod in the next couple weeks, and the final decision will be coming from the Ministry."
"With your plans of removing the whale you are infringing on their religious beliefs and they (Mowachaht/Muchalaht) have met the requirements in documentation. Can you lay out all the options you may have?" said Roger Dunlop of the NTC Fisheries.
"Our first option is to help him reunite with his pod if they go by here. Our second option is to let him swim into a pen on his own, or third we use a tail rope to get him into the pen or finally enclose him with a net," said Joyce. "Being a sensitive topic of using an aquaculture pen we have had discussions with Conuma Hatchery to use one of their pens," said Marilyn.
After Marilyn spoke, Clint Wright explained that the Vancouver Aquarium does not want, nor do they have an interest in having a killer whale in their aquarium. The aquarium is only there to lend expertise in the moving of the whale. "It would take approximately one hundred pounds of food per day to hold him in a pen, and I am hoping someone local or from the tribe would help feed him and catch food for him," said Clint.
Discussions around leading the whale down the coast arose, and it was explained that this type of removal is fraught with danger because it would take approximately 74 hours to lead the whale. In order to lead the whale you would have to train it to follow then you would have to untrain him and how do you do that?
"So you are going to do this regardless of what we say, aren't you?" said Jerry Jack.
Hesitantly Marilyn Joyce responded with a "Yes".
Frustration started to rise from the Mowachaht/Muchalaht side and it showed when the statement of "We have been through this process so many times with you DFO, Ministries, Fish Farms and while we are meeting, documents are being signed somewhere else. How can we trust you DFO? When are we going to be equal? When are we going to share information properly? When can we trust you?"
"You are right about one thing," aid Marilyn, "documents on Public Safety are being done," she said.
"Although you are interested in our culture and would like to know more, your policy dictates to you on what to do," aid Mike Maquinna.
Again the beliefs about the Killer Whale and wolves being one came up and explained and that former Chiefs came back as either, and that essentially DFO and Vancouver Aquarium are kidnapping a Chief. The Mowachaht/Muchalaht have unfinished business with the whale, and only when they let their tears go at a "Memorial Potlatch" will that happen.
Regardless of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht distaste for the removal of Tsuux-iit (Luna), DFO and the Vancouver Aquarium are going ahead with their plans to reunite L-pod and the whale.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), in collaboration with NOAA Fisheries (US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) announced a plan to relocate the juvenile killer whale Tsuux-iit, also known as Luna, to its pod in the Juan de Fuca Strait two weeks ago.
Orca Network has received permission to distribute the above article
Copyright Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper, published by the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. Reproduction of this article or photographs, in whole or in part, is illegal without the written consent of Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper
Two plans for reuniting overly friendly orca with pod
May 6, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer
) Luna the lonely orca will be temporarily confined in a net pen in Pedder Bay near here if an attempt fails to reunite him with his pod at the entrance to Nootka Sound.
An attempt will be made to lead the whale out of the sound just as his pod is passing by, but even the most optimistic supporters of that approach know it is unlikely to succeed.
The killer whale pod, which spends its summers in Washington state's San Juan Islands, covers tremendous distances. Luna's pod is not usually seen in the waters off Nootka Sound, an inlet about 140 miles northwest of Victoria on Vancouver Island's west coast.
"Leading him out into the open water would be best for everyone, and especially for Luna, but the chances are pretty remote," said Ed Thorburn, a field supervisor with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
If that plan fails, the 4-year-old orca will probably be packed into a sling in a tank on a huge truck and, with police escorts and a contingent of veterinarians and scientists, be hauled to Pedder Bay.
Aquarium president John Nightingale said about $160,000 must be raised in cash and $51,000 in donated goods and services for the operation to proceed. That's on top of $95,000 from the Canadian government and $100,000 from the U.S. government.
But fund-raising is going slowly.
"If we don't have it by May 15 or 20 it will put a real crimp in things," Nightingale said. "It would stop it."
ReuniteLuna.com thanks Marilyn Joyce
April 29, 2004
For the past year or so, many people have dedicated themselves to the protection of Luna and the plan to move him closer to his family. Few have put more time and effort into this project than Marilyn Joyce, the Marine Mammal Coordinator for Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).
For the past two years Marilyn has been working with scientists, NGOs and the public to do what is best for Luna. Up until last summer, it was felt that Lunas best chance of survival was to leave him be, and not interfere with what may be a natural process. However, last summer, Lunas activity around boats and float planes was causing concern for public safety, and a new plan had to be crafted: a plan to attempt to reunite Luna with his Pod. Marilyn took the lead on this plan and successfully melded together the responsibilities of two federal governments, the advice of marine mammal scientists, and the needs of NGOs and the public to develop a relocation plan, which will be implemented later this spring.
Marilyn made herself available to the public from the very beginning of this project, and was ready to answer their questions. In September of last year, Marilyn took the time to address many questions put forward by readers of the ReuniteLuna.com web site. In addition, Marilyn read and responded to every letter and email she received regarding Luna. This is remarkable considering she received thousands of letters.
Despite her diligent efforts, many people viewed Marilyn as a roadblock to get Luna home. That is not the case. She has worked hard to make sure Luna was a priority for senior officials. She has put a lot of extra time into pushing this project forward and making sure that DFO is doing the best they can with the best advice and information.
No one has worked harder on protecting Luna than Marilyn. She has put a lot of sweat and tears into this project and receives little praise for it, though it is much deserved. She is a wonderful lady with a big heart and a bright mind.
Marilyn began her career as a biologist with DFO, and worked for many years in that capacity before becoming the pacific regions first Marine Mammal Coordinator. She works hard because she is passionate about protecting the environment and the preservation of species that share our waters.
ReuniteLuna.com would like to ask the public to stop writing and emailing Marilyn so that she has time to work on getting Luna home.
Luna will be a competent hunter
April 15, 2004
Luna has spent much of his time lately engaged in long foraging sessions in various parts of Nootka Sound. It is likely that he is hunting the big winter spring salmon that are in the Sound at this time of year. At times he can be heard echolocating almost constantly as he hunts (click to hear audio). He often has seagulls flying above him, a sign that they are hoping for fish scraps and therefore that Luna is a successful hunter& on one occasion he was seen with a big fish in his mouth! Luna also calls quite frequently, using the calls of his southern resident orca kin as well as making his own unique sounds. There can be little question that when Luna returns to orca society he will be a competent hunter, and that he will easily be able to keep up with the other orcas. It will also be easy for researchers to identify him acoustically among the crowdof other southern resident voices.
At one point, about a week ago, Luna was not sighted for a period of 5 days, giving rise to speculation that he may have roamed as far as the mouth of Nootka Sound. Doing so would mean that he would have an excellent opportunity to hear L pod if they head south past Nootka Sound during May, and for L pod to hear him. That would of course provide a great opportunity for a naturalreunion to take place. Though such an outcome is by no means certain, it is certainly one worth hoping for and putting effort into.
Another encouraging aspect of Luna's recent behaviour is that he is handling himself around vessels and aircraft very well. Perhaps because most of the vessels he encounters are familiar to him, Luna has been ignoring most of the vessel traffic around him and has been engaging vessels only when encouraged to do so. Thankfully, the sight of Luna interacting with people in boats is rare these days because local boaters are familiar with him and do not seek interactions. However, as we all know, the summer will bring many recreational boaters to Nootka Sound and that is cause for continued concern. Luna has not attempted to interact with an aircraft since an Acoustic Deterrent Device(ADD) was installed at the Air Nootka dock early in March. The device is intended for use only when needed and has not been switched on yet because Luna has not posed any problems for taxiing aircraft. This too is a good sign that Luna is managing himself well.
As previously noted, we continue to encourage all members of the public, including media, to stay away from Luna and give him the best possible chance of staying out of trouble.
Canada's DFO Luna Page Update:
April 13, 2004
As a public security measure, DFO has put an Acoustic Deterrent Device (ADD) at the Air Nootka dock in Gold River to help mitigate any risk to public safety. This device consists of speakers that are suspended underwater and emit a sound that slowly increases in volume over time, giving L98 sufficient opportunity to leave the area before the device reaches maximum volume. This device will be activated by authorized personnel only if L98 is actively engaging a moving aircraft, and will be immediately turned off once the aircraft is safely airborne or tied up.
An activation report, including a description of L98's behaviour prior to and during activation, will be sent immediately to the DFO office in Gold River. Protocol for the use of the ADD has been developed to ensure that L98 is not harmed in any way.
It is highly unlikely that this device will be used, but we do need to be concerned about the safety of passengers in the aircraft during taxiing if L98 is interfering with the floatplane.
In the past week, L98 has spent very little time in the vicinity of Gold River and no incidents have been reported. L98 continues to appear healthy and active.
OPTIONS FOR LUNA'S FUTURE SHOULD INCLUDE A BAY PEN
SEPTEMBER 4, 2003
From Marilyn Joyce, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
August 28, 2003
I have been in contact with both DFO Enforcement Officers and the Veins of Life Stewardship personnel in Gold River this morning. I am pleased to advise you and your network that Luna is not seriously injured. The Stewards confirmed that Luna has a cut on his head but wound is not of a serious nature and is consistent with other minor cuts Luna has had in the past two years. I note that killer whale do regularly have cuts and abrasions. Luna was sighted on Tuesday swimming and acting very normal. Our Officers and Stewards are on the water again to day and will be looking for Luna and checking on the cut.
I am very much aware of the interest and support from the public to intervene to reunite Luna with his pod. We at DFO do want what is best for this whale. Reuniting him one option is currently under consideration and I will provide you an update once a decision has been made. We recognize that the window of opportunity is limited and are working very hard to ensure that the options before us do not become limited because of timing.
Marine Mammal Coordinator
Fisheries Management - Pacific Region
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
200 - 401 Burrard Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 5G3
Telephone: (604) 666-9965
Facsimile: (604) 666-3341
Cellular: (604) 813-5314
Lone orca's injury in B.C. revives calls to return it to pod
August 29, 2003 (Seattle Times
) (link expired) A lone orca living in Canada has been injured in an apparent collision with a boat on the west coast of Vancouver Island, prompting renewed calls to have the killer whale reunited with its relatives in Puget Sound.
L-98, nicknamed Luna, collided with a sport fisherman's boat in Nootka Sound last Thursday or Friday, receiving a deep 6-inch gash in the head. It's unclear whether the boat's propeller was moving or even if the orca hit it, but the impact was hard enough to break its mounting bracket, said Ed Thorburn, enforcement officer for Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).
Thorburn has seen L-98 cut other times since it first appeared on the west coast of Vancouver Island in 2001, with the orca regularly playing with logs and prawn traps. The orca has been seen since the accident and appears in good health.
Marilyn Joyce, marine-mammal coordinator for DFO, said L-98's cut was small and "certainly is not impacting him at all."
Still, she said L-98's situation has changed since May, when the agency decided to hold off on a relocation.
At the time, the orca was swimming farther afield and the agency hoped it might reunite with the southern residents on its own. Also, the agency feared a failed reunion could lead to L-98 being placed in an aquarium.
But this summer, the DFO saw more people in Nootka Sound paying attention to the orca. DFO will ask its panel of experts to look again at relocation, said Joyce.
Reported injury steps up concerns for stray orca
August 29, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Luna injured, hasn't been seen since
August 27, 2003 (National Post
) Luna, the orphaned orca living alone in the waters off Gold River, was cut by a boat's propeller blade Monday.
The deep gash is above Luna's eye. It is approximately 15 to 20 centimetres long and about three centimetres deep - deep enough to reveal blubber.
The impact of the collision disabled the boat and it had to be towed.
No one has seen Luna since the incident.
Whale experts have warned from the beginning that the orca's love of humans and boats could put it in danger
Luna, the whale, still a loner
August 20, 2003 (Victoria Times-Coloonist
) The solitary orca living off Vancouver Island's west coast was a little different from the rest of the whales right from the start.
Immediately after his September 1999 birth, Luna, also called L-98 for his pod and birth order, split from his mother and spent a week with a female in another pod before returning to his mother.
This was "unprecedented" in what has been seen before among these whales, says Ken Balcomb of the Centre for Whale Research at Friday Harbor, Washington state.
Luna's mother may have had trouble lactating at first and another female may have nursed the calf, he said. "We don't really know what was going on."
For the next several months, everything appeared normal. But as Luna approached his first birthday, he was often more independent from his mother than is usual with calves.
Balcomb speculates this trait may have its roots in Luna's early days. "I guess you can have the parallel in human development where social changes or traumas in certain stages of life can affect the rest of your behavioural repertoire."
This independence might have led to Luna's isolation but it is only a hypothesis.
It's possible that Luna, who travelled a lot with an older uncle, became lost when that uncle died and did not know how to reconnect with his pod, Balcomb said.
Being alone threatens Luna and humans, too
August 17, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer
) It worked for Springer -- it's time for Luna. The Seattle Aquarium supports immediate efforts to return Luna, the wayward orca from northern Vancouver Island. Since 2001, this 4-year-old killer whale has been swimming alone in Nootka Sound on the island's west coast. This is considered beyond the normal range of its L-pod family members, one of three southern community pods commonly seen in Washington waters.
Without his natural companions, Luna has become dangerously comfortable with human contact and boats. This poses a threat both to his long-term health and to people. In addition, the Puget Sound population of orcas is listed as a "depleted species" by the federal government, with a population of about 82 whales presently compared with an estimate of 120 animals in the 1960s. The number of breeding males is critically low. As Luna reaches maturity in his teens, he will become an invaluable member of the Sound's orca gene pool.
Luna should return home
August 10, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial
) Bring Luna home.
As Canadian authorities study what to do with the lone orca, returning him to Washington waters appears to be the best course of action.
It's a decision that rests partially in Canada with federal officials and, to an extent rarely mentioned, tribal nations on the coast. But Americans should have a voice, too.
The lost 4-year-old is from Puget Sound, where orcas number just over 80. We need every orca possible here.
Luna apparently became separated from his pod while swimming past Vancouver Island. Since 2001, he has been alone in Nootka Sound on the island's West Coast.
As a Post-Intelligencer news story reported Thursday, a lot of people look at the killer whale and see loneliness. Probably for good reason: Orcas are extremely social and maintain close family relationships.
They also worry that a return to Puget Sound might cause more risky encounters with busier boat traffic. If things got bad enough, they say, he might have to be placed in an aquarium -- a terrible option.
Online petition drive supports returning Luna to pod
August 8, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer
) Activists have launched an online petition drive to persuade the Canadian government to try to reunite the orphan orca Luna with his whale family, or pod.
The 4-year-old orca, apparently lost, was separated from his pod about two years ago and has been in the back bays of northwestern Vancouver Island.
Because of his aggressively playful antics, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is considering a reunification attempt, along with other options, including putting the whale in an aquarium.
About 1,500 people have signed the petition so far, said activist Rene Halliburton of Campbell River, B.C.
Luna belongs to a pod that hangs out around the San Juan Islands this time of year.
The petition is at www.petitionpetition.com/cgi/petition.cgi?id=5960
Luna and his family
By Howard Garrett
August 7, 2003
The decision whether to help L98 (Luna) to rejoin his family rests with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). The decision-making process has involved a variety of scientists holding various viewpoints, but the final choice is up to the DFO. So far the decision has been to take no action except to assist in monitoring Luna's intrusive behavior and helping to educate the public to stay away from him.
We strongly advocate that Luna be returned to his mother, L67, and her family, the L2 matriline. We believe Luna can recognize his family and will rejoin them if given the opportunity. The central point made by DFO to justify the “no action” option appears to be the speculation that Luna would not rejoin his family, but instead would show up beside boats like he is doing now in Nootka Sound but among much more traffic, possibly causing an accident or injury to himself or others. On July 28 Marilyn Joyce of the DFO said in a televised broadcast: “We're very concerned that if Luna was brought down into the area that he has more opportunity to interact with people and boats which will become even more of a danger for him and the public.” The behavioral model Joyce is referring to appears to be the nuisance bear, rummaging through garbage cans, that has lost its fear of humans and is likely to become ever more aggressive.
We believe this opinion is based on the inability of the DFO to understand the implications of recent studies and events. The primary finding needed to assess Luna’s prospects if returned to his family, that has not been incorporated into DFO's thinking, is that the species Orcinus orca
can be expected to act according to cultural influences. We cite “Culture in Whales and Dolphins,” Luke Rendell and Hal Whitehead's pivotal paper published in 2001in the prestigious Journal of Behavioural and Brain Sciences. From the abstract: ”The complex and stable vocal and behavioural cultures of sympatric groups of killer whales (Orcinus orca
) appear to have no parallel outside humans and represent an independent evolution of cultural faculties.”
perspective on orcas opens a vast new field of knowledge on which biologists are ill-equipped to play. With the cultural behavior model now established for orcas, the perspectives of anthropology and sociology are needed to interpret and predict orca behavior. This would be just a fascinating armchair conversation if not for the need to help poor Luna, lost and lonely, clamoring for company far out of range of his family. Any decision on whether to help him and how to do so depends on how we understand the species, yet the biological advisors the DFO has consulted do not have backgrounds in cultural behavior, so they are challenged to make an adequate assessment of Luna’s capabilities, his memories, and the strength of his cultural identity.
Like humans, but unlike any other mammal known (with the possible exception of a few other cetacean species), each orca is born into and grows up as a member of a cultural community, bonded for life. This membership and identity are not lost, regardless of time spent away from the community. Knowledge of self as a member of a cultural community overrides the kinds of instinctual, stimulus-response behavior associated with other mammals, such as bears.
The conclusion is that Luna knows who he is in the context of his family and community. There is no reason to assume he has forgotten his family or the vocalizations they use to communicate, and there is no reason to believe he is somehow an outcast or is undesirable to his family. He remains a member of the L2 matriline. He’s simply out of reach, lost, and when that problem is resolved by bringing him close to his family, he’ll know them immediately and he’ll know what to do. He’ll rejoin them. A lost human child old enough to learn his family’s language would do the same.
Obviously, the most tragic and uninformed decision, now under consideration by DFO, would be to remove Luna to a concrete tank.
For guidance in helping Luna we have only to cast a glance at A73, Springer, who immediately recognized her family and has thoroughly reintegrated with them. There is no longer any sign that she once paddled up to boats, leaned on them, rolled upside down, and generally made a nuisance of herself. She’s an A11 pod whale again. Luna will surely do the same, if the DFO will just understand his capability to rejoin his relatives and allow him to be helped in his search for them.
Future of 'sad' orca presents dilemma
August 7, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer
) Luna and the boat will be back. But the whale is lonely, say folks around here. He's following boats because they're the closest thing he knows to his own kind.
Canadian authorities decided two months ago to leave the 4-year-old orca alone. But now they are reconsidering and plan to announce a decision as early as this week.
If they decide to take action, they could put Luna in an aquarium. Or they may try to reunite Luna with his pod, which hangs out around the San Juan Islands this time of year.
The second look was prompted in part by accusations that a boater, frustrated when the orca prevented him from docking, smacked the animal with a board. Also this summer, the whale kept a fishing party from docking, forcing the men to stay on the water overnight. Then this week, the whale started interfering with salmon fishermen in the area.
"I'd say most people get it -- that he's separated from his family, lonely," Anderson said. "The odd person says he should be shot like a grizzly."
Anderson was at the dock on behalf of the Veins of Life Watershed Society, a Victoria environmental group under contract to the Canadian government to monitor activity at the docks and inform visitors about rules against approaching the orca.
Canadian Officials Dealing With A Whale Of A Dilemma
July 28, 2003 (Q13-TV
) Canadian officials are dealing with a whale of a dilemma. What should they do with "Luna?" The young orca is removed from his family and is living in a remote BC inlet hundreds of miles away. Some believe the whale should be brought back to his home in Puget Sound while others say it's too late for that.
Everybody has a story about Luna and whale advocates say that's the problem.
Locals say Luna's gotten extremely friendly, drawing crowds and now more security and warnings from the government to keep your distance.
Paul Spong/Whale Researcher: "Luna's just a big kid, 4 yrs old, healthy from a physical point of view but he's a social creature and he's desperately lonely. His problem is he's seeking contact with humans."
Marilyn Joyce/Dept. fisheries & Oceans: "We're very concerned that if Luna was brought down into the area that he has more opportunity to interact with people and boats which will become even more of a danger for him and the public."
In June the Canadians said they would not move the whale. Now, they are reconsidering that decision in light of what they say is an increase in human-whale interactions.
Help bring Luna home to his family
July 24, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer
) Springer, the once orphaned orca whale, has come home.
Yet as I celebrate Springer's return, I am saddened that another orca, Luna, lingers lost and alone in Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island's west coast. In recent days the news of a brutal attack on this trusting calf has come to light. Three days before he was beaten by a man working for the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, I visited Luna in Gold River, the village he has come to call home. I watched as he snuggled up to fishing boats for a whale snooze and scratched his belly along the underside of sailboats and tugs tied up at the dock. These are the same behaviors he would experience in the wild with members of his family. Yet he is alone and, as a highly social animal, he has come to trust humans for attention. The trust seems misplaced.
Now, in Gold River there are rumors that Marine Land Niagara is looking to capture Luna for display in its aquarium. Should he be captured, Luna would be the first calf removed from the southern resident community since the devastating capture era of the '60s and '70, a dark time from which our beloved J, K, and L pods are still trying to recover.
For two years since Luna's mysterious arrival in Nootka Sound, the fisheries department, the government agency charged with protecting Canada's wildlife, has done nothing to help Luna, hoping that his pod would swim by and pick him up.
Luna is still a baby separated from his mother and family, who will protect him better than we ever could. The answer is clear. We must bring Luna home now to live as a wild whale.
Leigh Calvez is a naturalist and a nature writer living in the Seattle area. The Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans can be reached at 604-666-9965.
U.S. activists call for shipping Luna home
July 23, 2003 (Victoria Times-Colonist
) U.S. environmentalists say it's time for Canada's orca watchdogs to stop being afraid of failure and to ship Luna, a young killer whale stranded in Nootka Sound, south to rejoin his pod in the San Juan Islands.
Fred Felleman, of the Seattle-based Orca Conservancy, said Luna is important to the biological future of the endangered southern resident population, which has shrunk to 83 animals.
"The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has an obligation to the recovery of the southern resident (orca) community," said Felleman.
A number of Canadians share Felleman's view. Ellen Hartlmeier of Victoria and Rene Halliburton of Campbell River have begun an Internet petition calling for the reunification of Luna with his family.
July 21 - Please sign this Reunite Luna petition
Excerpts from the petition:
Luna or L98 is a 4 year old Orca that has been seperated from his pod since
2001. It is assumed that he has wandered into Nootka Sound with his Uncle L39, who then presumably died and left Luna stranded away from his pod, which is Lpod, one of the 3 pods that make up the Southern Resident Community.
July 19, 2003
If Luna stays where he is, it is only a matter of time before he gets hurt, or worse, killed up there. He needs a chance to get reunited with his family. We realize, that it will not be as easy as it looked with Springer - but we feel that he needs a chance. We have confidence, that when he hears and sees his family, his mother and siblings, that he will learn to forget about boats. He has been starving from attention from his kin for too long.
Some people might argue that the only option for Luna in the event of a reunion not happening, might be captivity... but we have to cross that bridge when we get there... CAPTIVITY IS CERTAINLY NOT AN OPTION!
The time has come to help Luna.
If someone finds a lost, lonely child off in the wilderness or on a city street, we'd want them to help the little tyke return to his family. The same applies to Luna, the 3½ year old L pod youngster who's stationed himself in Nootka Sound for the past two years. Somehow he got separated from his family and he's been out of contact with them ever since.
A rising drumbeat of plans and pleas have sprung from concerned people in the past week or so, partly inspired by Springer's success
in rejoining her pod, and partly due to a series of increasingly risky encounters between Luna and human onlookers.
There are two ways to go about reuniting Luna with his mom, and we believe both would work. The first and by far the least risky, least costly and most expeditious method is to befriend Luna (no problem there!) from a fairly large, ocean-going vessel. Spend a little time building rapport with him by talking to him, playing music and perhaps L pod calls, and gradually lead him further and further out of the inner confines of Nootka Sound. If he turns around, go back and pick up where you left off and try again. If there's no incremental success in a few days, maybe the boat-follow method won't work, and there's no loss and little expense.
If he does follow the boat with his friends on board, simply travel out beyond the surf and down the coast and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca at a slow pace, probably 5-10 knots. Once in the Strait there's no hurry, because that's where L pod may appear at any time. When Luna first hears his family's live calls from ten or more miles away, he's likely to bee-line toward them, and the job is done but for the visual monitoring to see what happens.
The other method, which could be tried if the boat-follow fails to lead Luna out of Nootka Sound, would be to capture him in a sling á la Springer's capture, and hoist him aboard a boat or truck for transport to Haro Strait to await an encounter with L pod. That's a lot more hassle and expense, and would involve veterinarians and other specialists, but as a last resort it would probably work too.
The decision is up to Canada's Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and so far they've elected to wait and see. The chorus of opinion now ringing from both sides of the border and coast to coast is that we've waited too long and seen enough already.
DFO's inertia seems to be based on the impression that Luna is like any other wild animal — the nuisance bear analogy has come up more than once. The theory is that if he's brought into Haro Strait there will just be more boats and docks for him to make mischief among.
Our point is that Luna is not a "wild animal." Orcas don't behave like wild animals. There's not a single documented case of a non-captive orca ever harming a human. Orcas are not driven by instincts, nor are they prone to aggression. Quite the contrary, orcas are lifetime members of intricate, traditional orca societies. Luna is a member of L pod regardless of his long absence, and like a lonely little guy found begging for attention, he just needs to get home again. L pod is his home, and it's time to help him get there.
Howard Garrett and Susan Berta
Activists mobilize to transport killer whale back to U.S.
July 19, 2003 (Toronto Globe and Mail
) Whale activists concerned about the future of a young American killer whale met in Seattle Friday, determined to press government officials on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border to help the orca rejoin the family he last saw more than two years ago.
The problem is that Luna - also known as L-98 for his birth order in L-pod - is drawing growing crowds of tourists to the town of Gold River on remote Nootka Sound, on the west side of Vancouver Island.
"The situation is quite desperate right now," said Mark Pakenham of Victoria, who heads a group working with Canadian officials to monitor the animal - and the humans.
Canadian fisheries officials decided last spring to leave the four-year-old whale alone and hope he rejoins his family members as they pass nearby. L-pod spends much of the year chasing salmon around Washington's San Juan Islands.
But officials are reviewing that decision due to the worsening situation, said Marilyn Joyce, marine mammal resource co-ordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Canadian Official Accused Of Beating An Orca Whale
July 15, 2003 (KOMO-TV
) There are new allegations that a government worker from Canada was caught beating an orphaned orca whale.
KOMO 4 News has learned that Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans is launching an investigation. The incident in Nootka Sound off Vancouver Island increases pressure to move Luna back home to Puget Sound.
Last year it was Springer, the orphaned orca in Puget Sound, so starved for attention she adopted a ferry and wouldn't leave boats alone. Springer successfully reunited with her Canadian orca family.
Orca advocates say it's time to give Luna the same chance and bring him home to Puget Sound.
Canada says at this point it is not considering any type of reunion for Luna. Instead the government says it's focusing on keeping people away from the whale.
West coast whale funding cut
July 15, 2003 (CBC
) A Vancouver Island whale conservationist says federal fisheries officials want his group to watch over Luna the orphaned orca in Nootka Sound, but aren't willing to pay for the service.
Marc Pakenham of the Veins of Life Watershed Society says his funding has been cut, putting the whale's life in danger. "He is going downhill fast. And if we don't do something in the near future, we're looking at a tragedy in the making," he says. Luna has been living alone in the waters around Gold River for the last couple of years.
Who would want to hurt a killer whale?
July 15, 2003 (KING5-TV
) Apparently Luna, the orca who likes to hang around boats near Vancouver Island, was the target of a bizarre attack.
Luna, also known as L-98, is notorious for snuggling up to boats.
Witnesses say, late last week, he approached a dock near Gold River in Nootka Sound, B.C.
A man motive unknown picked up a shovel and swung it at Luna. Then he yelled death threat at the whale.
"A person was observed beating Luna with a stick at the dock of Gold River. It was an unfortunate incident and that person is believed to have threatened Luna's life,” said Marc Pakenham, Veins of Life Watershed Society.
Although it seems like a freak incident, it’s a reminder of the dangers Luna faces by being too close to humans.
West coast whale funding cut
July 14, 2003 (CBC
) A Vancouver Island whale conservationist says federal fisheries officials want his group to watch over Luna the orphaned orca in Nootka Sound, but aren't willing to pay for the service.
Marc Pakenham of the Veins of Life Watershed Society says his funding has been cut, putting the whale's life in danger.
"He is going downhill fast. And if we don't do something in the near future, we're looking at a tragedy in the making," he says.
Luna has been living alone in the waters around Gold River for the last couple of years.
Pakenham says while the solo whale appears fine physically, he is displaying symptoms of depression.
the only solution for Luna is to reunite him with his family.
July 8, 2003
Is Luna Headed for Disaster?
Paul Spong, PhD
Times Colonist Comment Section
As a member of the scientific panel convened by Canad's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to provide advice about Luna (L98), the solitary male orca who has been in Nootka Sound for the past tow years, I cannot reveal details of our conversation.
However, I can say that the decision of the DFO not to intervene and attempt to return Luna to his family and community at this time was not based on the advice of the panel, as has been widely reported by the media.
Simply put, I believe Luna to be headed for disaster if nothing is done to alter the course he is on. I also believe that it is our collective obligation to give Luna an opportunity to rejoin his social group because we know where he belongs.
No one knows how luna came to be where he is, alone in Nootka Sound, thought there are various theories ranging from rejection and abandonment to inadvertently losing his way. I am partial to the thought that perhaps he had gone into Nootka Sound with his uncle (L39) who had then died, leaving Luna alone in unfamiliar space, but we cannot know if this is true.
What we do know from several prior instances is that when orcas find themselves in strange confined waters they sometimes get stuck and have difficulty making their way out. The cognitive or perceptual mechanisms involved are unclear, but the phenomenon seems real enough.
In January 2002 the orphan Springer (A73) showed up near Seattle and spent months within a tiny area between the city and Bainbridge Island; in 1997 19 members of L pod seemed trappedfor weeks in Dyes Inlet, virtually in the heart of Seattle; and in 1994 a group of orcas became trappedin a confined ocean space known as Barnes Lake in Alaska and had to be driven out.
The ends were very different in these cases - some of the Barnes Lake orcas died of starvation, the L pod orcas eventually made their way out the Dyes Islet, and Springer was returned to her family and community via an extraordinary human effort.
Making appropriate judgements regarding intervention in cases such as these is not an easy matter. Let nature take its courseis a common refrain. However I am sure that everyone involved in the Barnes Lake incident wished they had acted sooner, that a huge sigh of relief accompanied L pod as its members left Dyes Inlet, and that everyone involved in bringing Springer home felt buoyed by the outcome.
Luna's case is complex and in many ways quite different from Springer's. Luna is male and Springer is female; Springer is an orphan and Luna's mother is alive. But most importantly Springer was in poor health when she was found alone, whereas Luna appears healthy, and Springer was far from her home range whereas Luna is at least in theory within it.
The upshot is that the urgency evident in Springer's situation is not so clear in Luna's case. However, there is a common element which I regard as sufficient grounds for regarding Luna's situation as dire - his behaviour toward and around boats.
At the end of her sojourn near Seattle, Springer became increasingly fixated on boats, and it took great effort and discipline on the part of observers and the boating public to help her break the habit. Active intervention by other orcas helped too. Luna's fixation on boats is obviously a huge problem, one that comes from his existence as a lonely social being. Though there may be some amusement derived form Luna's habit of pushing boats around, preventing them from leaving the dock at Gold River or diverting them from their course, there are huge risks as well, for both him and for boaters.
Luna's body already shows minor abrasions and scars from encounters with boats and as time passes the risk of major injury increases. This is certainly a concern, but even more so is the risk his behaviour poses to boaters.
A large vessel like the Uchuck is impervious to the danger but tiny craft like kayaks are not. Luna pushes kayaks around in much the same way he deals with speedboats, and though his actions seem measured in that he applies much less force to kayaks; I cannot help believing that a tragedy is in the making.
The waters of Nootka Sound are cold and kayaks are not easy to climb back into.
At this point, given the DFO's decision not to intervene, Luna's fate seems pretty much up to him. If he manages to make it though the summer without being severely injured or injuring someone, or if he somehow manages to make his way out of Nootka Sound, he might have a chance of rejoining his proper society. But I doubt the latter and I fear the former.
In my view a plan must be put together as a matter of urgency which will give Luna the chance he deserves to find his way home. Whether such a plan is of the contingency "what if" variety of something to be implemented with a timetable is perhaps a matter for discussion.
I favour active intervention as soon as possible because I sense our obligation to Luna, and the experience we had last year with Springer convinces me it can succeed & and yes, I know the cases are very different and that many problems must be faced.
If the worst happens and Luna inadvertently kills someone, he will be labelled a problem animal and dealt with accordingly. He will be removed, either to a tank or euthanised. I sincerely doubt whether either end is acceptable to the public at large, or even to the DFO.
Paul Spong, PhD, is director of OrcaLab on Hanson Island.
Love is so complicated - For Luna's fans, a whale of a dilemma
April 7, 2003 (Victoria Times-Colonist
) Luna should be in Victoria and Puget Sound waters at this time of
year, hanging out with his family members from L Pod. But instead he
lives alone with his human friends in Nootka Sound, where he's
thought to have been brought almost two years ago by an older uncle
who subsequently died. The young whale is beloved now, says Girotto.
"When everyone started realizing he might be here for a while, they
got much more protective of him," he says. "You really get to
appreciate whale intelligence after watching this guy for a while."
Luna is one of 275 resident killer whales that frequent the waters
off Vancouver Island. Under normal circumstances, he would spend his
entire life with one of the southern resident pods, which includes
his mother and a new baby brother born last summer.
But the young whale, first spotted in Nootka Sound in the summer of
2001 during an aerial sea otter count, has shown little interest in
venturing into the open ocean to find his family. Past attempts to
lure him out past the entrance of the sound have failed, dashing
hopes of an accidental reunion with L pod. A decision will soon have
to be made whether to leave Luna alone or force a reunion. Neither
option is ideal.
February 12, 2003
People who disturb orca risk charges
February 12, 2003 (Victoria Times-Colonist
) The first charge of disturbing Luna, the young orca, is in the works as police try to stop people from touching and feeding the lonely whale living off Vancouver Island's west coast.
Get Luna too used to people and it hurts the three-year-old's chances of ever being able to reunite with his pod.
RCMP and a special whale monitoring and education team have spent months trying to educate people that the worst thing that can happen is to let this whale become attached to humans and boats because he may favour them over his own kind.
And the first teleconference for a new Canadian-U.S. scientific panel is expected to happen this week as members wrestle with what's best for Luna and the rest of the endangered southern resident population.
He's heard of people swimming with the whale and trying to feed him. "The whale shows a remarkable kind of dignity in the face of poorly behaved humans."
January 31, 2003
Fate of displaced whale stirs debate
January 31, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer
) Lately, the little orca has been getting way too close to people and boats, begging for attention. The lonely whale is on his way to becoming the local pet.
Conservationists and government officials worry that Luna will grow too people-friendly, turn tame and never rejoin a Puget Sound orca family already ravaged by pollution and other woes. A slow-moving Canadian government needs to do something soon, activists say.
In the next month, the government plans to assemble a panel of orca experts to start figuring out what's best for Luna.
Lacking any contact with his kind, Luna craves intimacy. And some folks here are only too happy to oblige. They've grown quite comfortable -- casual, even -- with this American whale in their charge.
October 28, 2002
Reunion with pod delayed for lonely killer whale off B.C.
October 28, 2002 (Toronto Globe and Mail
) A lonesome killer whale separated from his pod for the past 15 months off Vancouver Island will have to remain on his own until at least next summer.
The three-year-old male orca, designated L-98 by biologists but also known as Luna, should be able to survive the winter in Nootka Sound, said Marilyn Joyce, marine mammal co-ordinator for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Killer whales are social animals that thrive in family groups called pods, and it is rare to find an orca separated from its pod.
In a recent report, fisheries officer Ed Thorburn wrote that while Luna is growing by leaps and bounds physically, "I do think he is sad because he is so lonely."
October 11, 2002
Susan and Howie
I would like to thank you and the members of your network who have expressed
their concern for L98, also known as Luna, the lone juvenile killer whale
that is currently residing in Nootka Sound. Since I have received many
letters and emails asking that Fisheries and Oceans Canada approved the
immediate relocation and re-introduction of L98 to his pod, I would like to
update you and your network on the recent decision regarding the future of
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) takes the conservation and protection of
marine mammals very seriously and we are working with many experts to
consider the options concerning the future of L98. This is a complex
situation as there are potential risks that need to be evaluated regardless
as to whether or not intervention is determined to be an option.
A scientific panel of Canadian and US government and non-government experts
will convene during the winter months to analyze the risks versus the
benefits of intervention with the whale in the summer of 2003. We believe it
is in L98's best, long-term interest to consider, plan and implement any
interventions thoughtfully and carefully. We are very concerned that if L98
were moved and failed to connect with his pod, he might be faced with
spending the winter in a less desirable location than his current one, both
in terms of food availability and increased human interference.
At this time, L98 is healthy and in a good, clean environment with plenty of
food. The monitoring program by the M3 program that was established over the
busiest summer months was successful in reducing the inappropriate human
interactions with L98. Nootka Sound is a very isolated inlet on the West
Coast of Vancouver Island and it is expected that human interference will be
minimal over the winter.
DFO scientists, John Ford and Graeme Ellis, and our enforcement
officers will continue to monitor L98 throughout the winter to ensure he is
healthy and safe and also to remind boaters to stay away and allow L98 to
live as a wild whale. I will ensure that John and Graeme provide you with
updates on L98. This media release went out
Marine Mammal Resource Coordinator
Fisheries Management - Pacific Region
Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Stn 460 - 555 W. Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 5G3
Tel: (604) 666-9965
Fax: (604) 666-3341
A whale of a reunion eyed in Canada
October 11, 2002 (CNN
) Canadian and U.S. scientists, who successfully reunited a lost orca whale with her family pod this summer, are wondering if they should launch a similar effort for a second killer whale.
The whale, known to scientists as L98, has been living alone off Vancouver Island's west coast since last year, after becoming separated from a pod that normally summers in the waters of Washington state's Puget Sound.
Canadian fisheries officials said on Thursday that a panel of whale experts will decide if they should attempt to capture the young male next summer and relocate it closer to where its relatives normally are.
Another whale reunited
Scientists successfully relocated a young orphaned female orca in July. The whale, known as A73 and nicknamed Springer, was taken by boat from a busy shipping channel near Seattle to Canadian waters where she was reunited with her family pod.
Orcas rarely separate from their pods for long periods and the effort to help A73 -- the first time scientist have successfully staged a family reunion for killer whales in the wild -- drew international attention.
Scientists had hoped that L98, who they have nicknamed Luna, would rejoin the family pod on his own this summer, but it was unclear if the other whales ever got close enough for him to hear them.
Unlike A73, L98 has remained healthy while living alone, but scientists are worried because lonely orcas sometime turn to boaters for attention and social interaction, putting both themselves and the humans in danger.
Interacting with the whale
Fisheries officers began patrolling the area near Nootka Sound where L98 has been living after receiving reports that boaters had been interacting with the whale -- in at least one case going so far as to pat the animal on the head.
A statement by Fisheries and Oceans Canada on Thursday said there is "considerable public interest" in relocating L98 before his pod returns to deeper water in the Pacific Ocean. But the department added that scientists do not want to move too quickly.
Experts are concerned that if the reunion is unsuccessful, the whale will be forced to spend the winter in waters with less food and more danger from humans than he now faces.
"DFO wants what is best for the whale and its pod," spokeswoman Marilyn Joyce said in a statement.
The Canadian efforts to help killer whales have been compared to the so far unsuccessful effort to return the killer whale Keiko to a life in the wild after living most of its life in captivity.
People-loving Keiko showed up in a narrow fjord in western Norway in early September, six weeks after he was freed from a pen in Iceland where trainers had spent three years and $20 million to make him fit for the oceans again.
October 11, 2002
Thank you for forwarding the letter from Marilyn Joyce. I am however concerned about some of the statements which she made regarding L-98's situation.
The description of Nootka Sound as "a very isolated inlet on the West Coast of Vancouver Island" is only partly true. While Nootka Sound certainly is more remote than say the Vashon-Southworth Ferry route, there is a substantial community there based on logging, fishing, tourism/sportfishing, and the recent addition of fish farms. While the overall amount of people is less, the amount of boat traffic remains a concern, especially in consideration of Luna's gregarious behavior. There has been much more interaction between Luna and humans in "remote" Nootka Sound than there was between Springer in industrial Puget Sound. Springer did not have people putting their hands in her mouth, rubbing her gums, and massaging her tongue. Springer did not have overzealous parents placing their children above her open mouth for a priceless photograph. Springer did not have well meaning people attempting to feed her loaves of bread and cookies. Springer did not have pranksters pouring beer down her throat.
Next I would call into question the description of Nootka Sound as "a good, clean environment with plenty of
food." At the mouth of Gold River, which is very near where Luna has spent much of her time, is an old pulp mill and remnants of a local First Nation town. The town was actually abandoned and moved far up river after residents began to develop mysterious ailments such as respiratory problems due to pollution associated with the pulp mill. The area was closed to fishing, clamming, and crabbing due to the high level of toxins, especially furons, dioxins, and PCB's. The spring salmon run which presumably has been L98's primary food source is endangered. The chum salmon run should be over by the end of December and the pilchard run on which Luna most likely subsisted last year is notoriously inconsistent. With the addition of fish farms to the region provides a source for disease and parasites as well as threatening the endangered wild fish. To my knowledge there has not been any evidence of resident orca populations feeding on the Atlantic farm salmon (inlcluding the escapees).
Finally I must point out the obvious. The timing of this letter and the update of the decision making process is all too ironic. L98 has been in Nootka Sound for at least sixteen months. That is how long it has taken DFO to decide to decide later about maybe making a decision if that seems like it might be the prudent thing to do. During this period Luna has become more and more habituated to humans and boats. At this point in time he has learned how to force boats to stop and force interactions with people. Clearly he is in desperate need of social contact and people have been more than obliging to help him. The troubling thing here is his risk of injury, whether by propellers or by other negative interaction will continue to grow in this scenario. Also, the more accustomed to human contact he becomes, the more likely he will seek it out in the future and the less likely he'll be to integrate with wild whales. Should we call into question why DFO chose not to divulge L98's presence in Nootka Sound to begin with? It seems clear to me that they have been hoping the "problem" would just go away. With sixteen months without a decision, I would say that they have been incrediblly successful in the pursuit of ignoring this issue.
The timing of this letter was also well planned to forestall any action in the near future. Anyone who has been immersed in Southern Resident 101 is aware that L Pod is regularly present until September/early October, at which time they seem to diverge into smaller subpods and not frequent the San Juans as much. In recent years, however, much of L has spent time in the autumn months in south Puget Sound. It is also well known that after the fall months L pod is not reliablly around until July. Putting the pieces together one must realize that given the amount of boat traffic/interference during the summer months that the best and most reliable time for a reunion would be late summer or early fall when food is still plenty, the whales are most predictablly present, and human intereference is at its minimum. The absolute worst time would be waiting until spring since the L's are not even present and boat traffic is building. Can you imagine dumping a boat friendly, beer drinking, white bread chawing juvenile killer whale into the Salish Sea in the middle of Canada Day and Fourth of July?
By stalling to announce the decision to make a decision later-on, DFO has continued to be remiss in their responsibilies. I am concerned primarily because DFO has refused to stand up and be assertive. The troubling thing about the present is Luna will remain in "pristine" Nootka Sound with many well-intentioned humans for company, a host of toxic cocktails, and an uncertain food supply for close to another year. The biggest fear that several whale researcher associates and I share is the what if Luna gets too close? What if he has misconstrued physical contact with a boater? What if he accidently swamps a kayak? The stage seems set for these sort of scenarios to take place since there is no management plan in place. Plus any incident of this type would lend set Luna up for permanent capture and aquarium life. Indeed some of my associates speculate this is exactly what DFO has in mind.
The M3 program deserves kudos for their work in Nootka Sound, but it should be noted that they were sponsered by an anonymous (U.S.) donor, not DFO. While I am not one hundred percent convinced that capture, transport, and reintroduction is the best option for Luna, I am convinced that maintaining the status quo will only further complicate this delicate situation.
In closing I would encourgage people to do a littlle background reading on the subject of lone juvenile killer whales. One of the killer whales, Miracle, held in captivity at Sealand on Vancouver Island was captured near Nanaimo after being found hungry and suffering from bullet wounds. In Eric Hoyt's excellent book, "The Whale Called Killer," this and another lone juvenile story are documented. Paul Jeune chronicled Miracle's story in his book "Killer Whale - The Saga Of 'Miracle'." There is more going on here than we can begin to understand, but it is our responsbility to have a plan to manage ourselves and our incredible impact. As Ken Balcomb has said so well, "The whales? The whales are fine. It's the people that are all messed up." As for Luna, I suppose only time will tell at this point.
PO Box 1502
Friday Harbor WA 98250
Concern for B.C. orphan whale
June 12, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer
) As efforts begin to capture an orphaned Canadian killer whale hanging around a Seattle ferry dock, concerns are increasing about a young orphan male going it alone on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Both young animals are getting dangerously friendly with boats.
Fisheries Department spokeswoman Michelle McCombs is urging boaters to stay away from the animal, noting regulations prohibit disturbing or harassing whales.
L-98 is being monitored by scientists and is in good health, she said.
As for a family reunion, it is not known where the rest of the L-pod is at this time of year.
Friendly Luna looking for his pod
(no longer online)
June 6, 2002 (CH News - Victoria BC
) A two-year-old orca known as Luna has been swimming off the west coast of Vancouver Island for about a year, and CH TV's Jonathan Bartlett visited to find out more.
Luna, as area residents have named him, is a five-metre- long orca. He showed up in Nootka Sound near Gold River last June.
Killer whales normally swim with their families or pods their entire lives. Marine biologists speculate that Luna was separated from his mother and has decided to stay and wait for his pod to return.
He has become acclimatized to humans, however, and scientists worry that could pose a risk of Luna losing his natural instinct for the wild.
Luna (or L-98, his official name) is a member of L-Pod, a Southern resident group of orcas who frequent Nootka water in the summertime.
Second baby whale isolated in Canadian waters
March 8, 2002 (Northwest Cable Network
) Luna or L-98 has inhabited the waters of Vancouver Island's Nootka Sound since last summer. For some reason he's been separated from the rest of the L pod, a group of whales usually found in U.S. waters. He's north while his pod is south. Meanwhile, Springer or A-73, a distressed calf of about the same size and age, is swimming in the waters between West Seattle and Vashon Island.
Scientists say this situation of two calves so far out of place at the same time is unprecedented, but they cannot find anything that connects the two. It's just a very strange coincidence.
Two orcas like peas without pods
February 2, 2002 (Seattle P-I
) Scientists puzzle over the lone whales in Puget Sound, B.C.
Two lost baby orcas -- one in a remote Vancouver Island inlet, the other in Puget Sound -- are puzzling scientists who say they have never before seen young killer whales split off from their families that way.
One orca, named Luna, was discovered last July in Nootka Sound along the rugged northwestern coast of Vancouver Island, scientists announced this week.
The second baby orca turned up alone recently in central Puget Sound. Recordings of its underwater calls were used late this week to identify it as coming from a group of whales never before seen there.
"This is something we've never encountered before," said John Ford, head of marine mammal research at the Pacific Biological Station on Vancouver Island. "The fact that there are two is very unusual."
Experts want to reunite lost whale with family
February 1, 2002 (Environmental News Service
) Scientists have identified a lonely killer whale calf that has spent the past six months in a remote inlet on Vancouver Island's west coast as Luna, an orca that had been presumed dead after disappearing from Puget Sound last summer.
The calf, known to scientists as L-98, was born in L-Pod, a group of "southern resident" orcas that frequent Washington state's inland waters. The whale is about 2 1/2 years old, equivalent to a human toddler, but whale experts say it has been able to hunt for fish and is in good shape.
"To our surprise, he seems to be making a living," said Lance Barrett-Lennard, a marine mammal scientist at the Vancouver Aquarium.
Young orca found living alone off Vancouver Island
(Note: See report below
January 31, 2002 (Seattle Times
) Marine scientists are trying to help a orca-whale calf that has lost his pod and has spent the past six months in a remote inlet on Vancouver Island's west coast.
The calf is about 2-1/2 years old, but he's been able to hunt for fish and is in pretty good shape, they said.
Lance Barrett-Lennard, a marine-mammal scientist at the Vancouver Aquarium, said it's unusual for an orca to lose his pod.
The calf follows the research boat, Barrett-Lennard said, but at a certain point, the same point every time, he will not go farther. Researchers think he is waiting in one spot, perhaps for his pod to find him. The scientists aren't saying exactly where the whale is because they don't want him disturbed.
If the team needs to help the whale leave the inlet to be reunited with his pod, he'll need to be conditioned to follow a particular boat.
Barrett-Lennard said the group knows the calf's mother was still alive last summer. But an uncle he often swam with is missing.
Observations of a small killer whale in Puget Sound
by Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research.
DFO and Partners Lay out Action Plan to Protect Killer Whale
January 30, 2002
Special Report from the Canadian Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans
2-year-old L98 is alive and well after at least seven months away from L pod! He was first seen in September, 1999, shortly after his birth to L67.
January 30, 2002
A most unusual situation has developed here in British Columbia, which I think will be of considerable interest to the network. Since July 2001, a lone juvenile killer whale has been residing in a remote inlet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It came to our attention in September, but we were unable to photograph it for identification until November. We have confirmed, with the assistance of the Center for Whale Research, that the whale is L98, a member of L pod born in 1999. This whale was not present with L pod when censused in June, 2001.
We have not made this situation public until now in consideration of L98's well-being. We were initially quite concerned that the whale would not obtain sufficient food as winter approached, and potential disruption from curious boaters would not help the situation. However, so far he seems to be doing quite well. We have observed him catching salmon, and he is showing no signs of emaciation. We plan to continue regular field trips to the west coast to monitor L98's health status. Fisheries and Oceans will undertake conservation and protection patrols as required to ensure the whale is not disturbed. In the meantime, we will continue discussions with our colleagues to develop response strategies should the juvenile's health deteriorate.
The L98 situation is the first time that a young resident whale has been found separated from its pod for a significant length of time. (A somewhat similar incident took place in the late 1970s, when an unknown, young killer whale in poor health was found at Campbell River and was ultimately taken into captivity at Sealand in Victoria...the whale came to be known as 'Miracle'). We have no idea how L98 came to be alone in this inlet, but he seems reluctant to leave. The situation is particularly interesting given the recent occurrence of the lone (as yet unidentified) juvenile in Puget Sound. There is no evidence that the two events are related. We'll provide updates to the network on L98's status as things develop.
John Ford and Graeme Ellis
Marine Mammal Research Program
Conservation Biology Section
Pacific Biological Station
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Nanaimo, BC V9R 5K6