Befriending Luna the Killer Whale

How a popular Smithsonian story about a stranded orca led to a new documentary about humanity’s link to wild animals

Separated from his pod along the Pacific Coast, Luna befriended the people of remote Nootka Sound on the western shore of Canada’s Vancouver Island. (© Suzanne Chisholm, 2004-2005)

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We think of these animals as not having anything related to our emotions. Here's an animal that needs a social life as much as life itself. He wound up dying because he needed this contact. All of a sudden we can recognize that in ourselves. We know we need one another. Now we are recognizing this need in this whale. He doesn't look like us. He doesn't come from the same environment. He's practically from another planet.

What are the broader lessons?
Parfit: Needing one another in order to survive is not unique to humans. Because Luna experienced something that is similar to what we experience, it kind of shuffled our perception of the world. We can't take ourselves out of the picture. With Luna, we had to figure out how to relate to him in a way that would not hurt him. With him we did not learn how to do that. He wound up being killed just because he was being friendly. It's appalling to think that an animal would have to die because he wants to be friends with us. That is kind of what our relation to the whole planet is.

Chisholm: We have to open up our minds and look at the signs and seek more understanding of these creatures, whether it's killer whales or a tree frog or changing climate. We all need to do better.


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