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Luna in Vancouver Island's Nootka Sound (Michael Parfit)

Whale of a Tale

When Luna, a people-loving orca, chose Vancouver Island's Nootka Sound for his home, he set in motion a drama of leviathan proportions

The water was too rough for my Zodiac. The canoe pulled out of sight. So I ran before the wind back to GoldRiver. No one there knew what was going on down the sound except for the DFO, which had radio contact with Thorburn, and the DFO wasn’t talking. I found out later what happened.

Far out in the windblown sound, Luna had left the canoes to play with a fishing boat and had followed it partway back to GoldRiver. Thorburn then led him the rest of the way, right through a log-boom barrier up to the pen.

Thorburn had once talked to Suzanne and me about leading Luna into the pen. “That’s a lot of credibility I’m going to lose with him,” he said. “I feel guilty now, and I haven’t even done it. But I’d rather have him back with his pod, that’s my whole reason.”

Now the moment had come: Thorburn moved his boat slowly into the pen. Luna followed. Then the whale veered away. Thorburn did it all again. Again, Luna veered away.

This went on for about an hour. During that time the native canoe was towed home around the end of the GoldRiver dock.

Late in the afternoon, Luna trusted Thorburn enough to follow him all the way into the pen, then rested against the Zodiac and another boat.

As we watched, members of the capture team climbed onto the pen and tiptoed around its edges, and took up positions on its perimeter. Two men grabbed the rope designed to pull up a net at the entrance and trap Luna permanently. The drama was over.

Or was it? Moving slowly, almost nonchalantly, Luna slipped out of the pen.

We thought Thorburn and his team would just lead him back in. But then a different sound came into the air. Into the teeth of the wind, the natives were again singing.

Slowly, pitching into the chop, two canoes came around the corner of the GoldRiver dock. As they did, there was another sound. People from the town of Gold River, including many from the First Nation band, had come down to the dock, and now as the natives emerged for one last try, the people on the dock cheered.

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