Leaving Luna Alone

Commentary by Paul Watson
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Once again, well meaning humans are rallying to save a whale. The only problem is that this particular whale does not need saving.

Luna (L-98), a young male Orca, has been a resident of Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island for the last three years. The First Nations people, the Mowachaht-Muchalaht Band of the area, consider the whale to be a reincarnation of their Chief Ambrose Maquinna who died three days before the whale appeared. The Chief had said that he would return as a whale. Chief Maquinna said that he would come back as an Orca to Nootka Sound to help his people oppose the invasion of commercial salmon fish farms.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society certainly respects the spiritual and cultural beliefs of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht, but more importantly, we appreciate the fact that Chief Maquinna's people are protecting the whale and watching over it.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society opposed the Makah Tribe of Washington State when they wanted to kill whales, but we now support the Mowachaht-Muchalaht who live across the waters from the Makah, because they are protecting this Orca and they are opposing the insidious infiltration of commercial fish farms.

Actually, Luna is not a whale. Orcas are the largest members of the family Delphinadae and, as such, Luna is actually a dolphin. And Luna is not the name that the Mowachaht-Muchalaht use. To them the young male Orca is "Tsuxiit."

The sad truth is that juvenile orcas periodically get separated from their pods. This sad occurrence is natural. Since the southern resident pods have distinct travel patterns, there is also a natural solution to reuniting the wayward whale without forcing him and causing stress and the potential for harm to Tsuxiit. Another fact is that young males are sometimes forced from their oceanic pods for reasons known only to Orca culture, and Tsuxiit may well be a lone whale for a reason.

Tsuxiit is not a captive whale. He is a free whale and quite capable of swimming down the coast to rejoin his pod, if he would choose to do so. Orcas pass close by and certainly close enough for Tsuxiit to hear them. Despite this, he has chosen to stay in the Bay.

The sad fact is that we know little about what motivates an Orca. We could move Tsuxiit to his pod at great expense only to have him rejected again and forced to find another place to hang out. The next place may not be as welcoming as the people of Nootka Sound or perhaps he will be in a more populous place where human curiosity would be a constant annoyance.

Tsuxiit seems to be healthy and is feeding himself. He also appears to be content. Why would we want to interfere? Is it because we feel that we know better than he what is good for him?

This summer the Norwegians will slaughter a thousand whales. This year the Japanese will kill 700 whales and more than 22,000 dolphins. This summer, the Faeroese will cruelly massacre a few thousand pilot whales. Every week hundreds of dolphins are killed in tuna nets. And Orca populations in the Puget Sound and Georgia Straight are contaminated with PCB's and heavy metals.

The unpopular question is why are hundreds of thousands of dollars being raised to move a contented whale from an area where he is loved and protected to a crowded area where he will be harassed by whale watchers? Would not the money and the energy be more positively directed at stopping the horrific slaughter of whales?

When the Canadian government arrived this week to capture the whale they call Luna, the Mowachaht-Muchalaht launched a pair of traditional canoes and led Tsuxiit 20 miles away from the government's capture pen.

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 capture strategy includes getting Tsuxiit to follow a boat into a net pen. Following a medical evaluation, the plan is to truck the Orca to Pedder Bay, west of Victoria, where he would be released when his family group L pod swims by.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is deeply suspicious of the motives of the Canadian government's so called rescue of Tsuxiit. This is the same government that sanctions the vicious sadistic slaughter of over 350,000 young Harp seals each year, and the same government that "managed" the cod and salmon into commercial extinction. Canada has blood on its hands and this may be a very costly public relations stunt meant to show Canada as caring for marine mammals.

We don't buy it and we don't trust the motives of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

So with a choice of supporting the motives of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht who want to protect Tsuxiit and the motives of the Canadian government that wants to "rescue" and relocate Luna, we side with the First Nations all the way.

Let Luna be and let the people of Ambrose Maquinna be left in peace to honor and protect Tsuxiit.

If Canada really wants to protect whales then the country should take action against illegal killing of endangered Bowheads in the Arctic or speak out against the illegal commercial whaling activities of Norway or the bogus so-called research whaling by the Japanese.

Canada should leave Luna alone and let the Mowachaht-Muchalaht be the guardians of this honored guest in their traditional waters.