Monday, March 10, 2014

The Lost Whale

To some, he was an annoyance or a nusciance. To others he was a spirit or a touchstone between worlds, while to others he was a lost and lonely orca looking for nothing more than some friendship. He was known by many names -- Bruno, Patch, Tsu'xiit, L-98 -- but to most of the world, he was known as Luna.
Luna (L-98) was a member of one of the endangered local southern resident pods. He was born to Splash (L-67) in the fall of 1999. Although the southern residents summer along the coast of British Columbia and Washington State, no one is sure where they go in the winter, and when L-Pod returned in the spring of 2001, Luna was not with them and presumed deceased. However, in July a solitary young whale turned up hundreds of kilometres away from his family in Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, an area that he rarely left for the rest of his life. Indentified as Luna, the little whale was in remarkably good shape for being alone so young, and although officials tried to keep people from interacting with him, Luna didn't follow human rules, and insisted upon trying to get the one thing he craved -- companionship -- and he touched the hearts of many people in the sound and beyond. Luna's story ended tragically eight years ago today when he was killed by a tug's propeller.
In their book, The Lost Whale, authors Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm become part of the story as what started as a short magazine assignment stretched into years of following the struggle to decide Luna's fate. Should Luna be caught and relocated, or left alone? Were relocation plans merely a front for shipping Luna to an aquarium? Do you leave alone a wild animal that is social, sensitive, intelligent, and clearly demanding attention? Should humans interact with him, despite the fact interaction in such cases can lead to exactly the same sorry fate that ultimately befell him? What was the right answer? Was there even a right answer?
The authors clearly struggle with these issues in their book and don't provide any easy answers, which is fitting in a way as there are no easy answers to these questions. And the only character in the story who knew the answers is no longer with us, and he spoke in a language that we are still too unsophisticated enough to understand to any great degree.
Where the authors do succeed is in telling the stories of the people who shared in the gift that was Luna's presence for those few short years, and the amazing encounters Luna shared with the residents of the sound. As one person who was fined for petting him said, "It was the best $100 I ever spent."
Even those of us who followed Luna's story only from a distance cannot help but be moved by this telling of the story.

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