Thursday, June 24, 2004

Luna campaign a weird waste of money

VICTORIA - I'm getting increasingly peeved at the way the federal government is churning through money on the great Luna relocation project.
Basically, I don't buy any of it. I don't buy that Luna is such a serious threat. I don't buy that there's a way to assess the chances of successfully hooking him up with his pod again. And I don't buy the idea that it it makes sense to spend more than $500,000 on moving one whale.
Luna is an Orca that left its pod and has spent the last three years hanging around Gold River. Note that fact - three years.
Sure, he's been a nuisance to boaters from time to time. Luna is social, and when an 1,800-kg whale decides to nuzzle up to your boat, things can get a little complicated. And the federal department of fisheries and oceans says he's surfaced near landing float planes.
So everybody needs to be careful; there's a whale in the water.
But that's hardly a justification to spend a whack of money on a plan to catch the whale, put him on a truck and drive 300 kilometres down Vancouver Island, put him in another pen for a week and then hopes he reunites with his pod. (And if i doesn't, and becomes a nuisance down here, he'll be caught again and sold to an aquarium.)
For the amount being spent on this exercise, the government could hire a full-time minder for the next decade to keep Luna out of harm's way.
Heck, if I was the town of Gold River I'd be contributing to any plan to keep Luna around. The town is in a beautiful setting, and still struggling to cope with the closure of the Bowater mill that provided most of its jobs. A well-regulated whale-watching business could fuel tourism and help keep Luna out of harm's way.
Instead of an opportunity, the whole exercise is turning into a big PR mess.
People around the world have seen First Nations paddlers leading Luna away from the government officials who want to capture him. He's swimming along side them in the shots, as they scratch his back with their paddles. It's like a Beautiful BC commercial and Free Willie rolled into one, with the DFO stepping into the role of the bad guys.
The Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation want Luna - or Tsuxiit as they call him - to stick around. Chief Mike Maquinna says his people believe Luna carries the spirit of his father, who died around the same time Luna showed up. Maquinna said his father made a deathbed wish for his spirit to inhabit a killer whale.
I don't question others' beliefs. My seriously ill greatgrandmother died happily after a dream in which she met Jesus and was told everything would be fine.
Anyway the whole effort is starting to look ridiculous. The plan to move Luna is plowing through some $500,000 in donations, and being funded heavily by the DFO on top of that. The amount you're paying is mounting every day.
All that to move a whale that's swimming around, as whales were meant to do.
Doesn't this strike you as patently crazy? It would be a huge feat to raise this amount of money to change the lives of 500 little kids in B.C., giving a bunch of preschoolers a fair chance to make their way in this world. But for a whale, it's a piece of cake.
Maybe, at base, that's the question here. Can one whale be worth this much? Are people really convinced that Luna - likable as he seems - is worth more than scared and lonely kids? (Sorry, you do have to choose. People aren't willing - or perhaps able - to give enough to meet all the needs.)
I'm thinking not. So if Luna is really a genuine threat, then sell it off, or drive it away.
If it's not, leave the creature alone.
Footnote: An interesting bit of irony. The Mowachaht/Muchalaht, championing Luna, are also part of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council that is seeking the right to hunt grey whales in its treaty talks. It's not an unreasonable position - there are lots of the whales these days. But it won't play all that well.


Anonymous said...

This may look like a victory for the Mowachaht-Muchalaht people but before being certain of it, consider who was the "loser" here. It wasn't DFO. It wasn't the Vancouver Aquarium. DFO did spent a lot of money from an already strained budget but protection on Marine Mammals is their job. The Vancouver Aquarium volunteered people, time and equipment but assisting Marine Mammals is something they do. The real "loser" in what First Nations did by interfering with DFO's attempt to capture Luna, is Luna himself.

Luna belongs to the Southern Resident population of Orca's that summer in the Haro Strait between Canada and the US. These whales have a tighter social and cultural bond than we human beings know in our own lives. They stay with each other their entire lives, Mothers and children all within the same matriarchal sub pod. Luna would be swimming with his Grandmother and his Mother if he were where he should be. This population of Orca's is endangered and Luna being among them is as important to them as it is to him.

Luna's behavior is due to boredom and the lack of the companionship of his own kind. Living outside the pod, which happened by accident, has left him without the guidance that any "child" whale would normally receive from his Mother. Luna's behavior will not improve without that but will only get worse. Humans cannot substitute for his natural family, not if he's to remain a "wild whale". For his own health and safety, Luna NEEDS to return to L-Pod. He just doesn't know how because Resident whales don't travel or live alone. Luna will be 5 years old next month and has lived alone for 3 of those years. It's vital to his own survival that he be returned to his own pod, his own culture, immediately. Failing to do so will only cost Luna more of his "wildness" by interacting with people which only puts both in greater danger. The only true "winner's" with what happened between First Nations and DFO is an unknown aquarium or sea amusement park. They're ready and waiting for Luna to get himself in enough trouble that captivity is the only option open to him.

However you look at this, from whatever side you're on, the only one losing anything is Luna. The humans involved in this, all of them, should consider the potential outcome for Luna and finally do what's right for him. Work together and give him back the life he deserves. Only then does everyone "win".

Anonymous said...

This is just a comment in reponse to the posting "Luna Campaign A Weird Waste of Money". I am a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations. I agree that the money spent on Luna/Tsu-xiit by DFO was a giant waste. It was obvious from the very beginning that it became less and less about "reuniting" Luna with her pod, and more and more about not looking weak. You are certainly correct, the volume of cash spent on those efforts would have been a godsend to many other organizations and causes that truly need support.
However, I take offence to your last comments regarding the irony of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations both protecting Tsu-xiit and then attempting to negotiate provisions for whale hunting. In my opinion, it is like saying that it's ironic that you own a cat...and yet eat hamburger. Where is the irony in that?