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

Luna in Vancouver Island's Nootka Sound (Michael Parfit)
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(Continued from page 7)

And Luna? Did he hear the songs, or the paddles, or the sound of the cheers? All I knew then was that he’d moved away from the pen and gone underwater. I watched and watched the surface, along with everyone else. Then I saw him leap out of the water to join the Mowachaht/Muchalaht natives in Nootka Sound.

The attempts to catch Luna went on for two more days, but the steam had gone out of the effort. By the end of the week, the DFO started folding its nets. It was clear, Thorburn said later, “if we were going to do it, it would have to be with the cooperation of the First Nation people.” “There are no winners and losers here,” Maquinna said in a speech to his people. “There is an education that’s happened. The nonnative community has come to understand that we are strong spiritually and have a living culture.”

Over the next weeks and months, Luna went back to what he’d been doing for three years: eating well, traveling the sound, trying to hang out with people, being something of a pest. In September, the DFO and the Mowachaht/Muchalaht people signed an agreement allowing the band to prevent anyone from interacting with Luna. Advocacy groups still promote a reunion.

But there has been a change. After the weeks of play and intense companionship with his old friend Thorburn and his new friends in the canoes, Luna has been left almost alone for months, and he appears to be trying harder to contact boats and the people in them. The press has lately carried stories of boats that Luna has, in the reporters’ word, “attacked.” Several rudders have been broken, and some people are demanding that he be removed.

Luna is stuck in a Catch-22. He learned how good companionship can be, but his friends have gone. So he demands attention from people who don’t want to give it. And the people who do want to give it will face charges if they try.

One day after the capture was canceled, Suzanne and I went out to the bay, where Luna first appeared and where he still spends most of his time. We sat on a rock and watched him rolling in the sun.

As we watched, I thought of all the times that the press had described him as “the lonely orca.” But that’s not the whole story either.

Though most people believe that Luna would be best off with his family, there remains a gulf between people, as deep as Nootka Sound. The natives believe Luna should make his own choices; many others think people should make decisions for him. The difference challenges how we all think about animals.

Yet in one fundamental way the paddlers’ bravery against the wind to keep Luna free was no different from Ed Thorburn’s determination to move him to his pod. Natives or not, in the past centuries we have all built distance between ourselves and the rest of life. Now the great wild world never glances our way. But when an animal like Luna breaks through and looks us in the eye, we cannot breathe.

And so we become desperate to keep these wild beings alive. Please do not leave us, Luna. We are the lonely ones.


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