Monday, March 13, 2006

Why we cared for Luna, and what we can learn

VICTORIA - Poor old Luna, just wanting to play, and ending up killed by a tug's propeller.
There was something sweet about the whale's fondness for contact with people. He had a much higher opinion of us than I do most of the time.
Maybe that's one of the reasons a lot of people liked the idea of Luna so much. The whale offered a badly needed vote of approval for our species, from a creature that seemed to embody childlike innocence and physical power. He could have eaten us, but instead played.
We know how messed up we are, how much havoc we wreak and how much harm we ignore. We're know we've made life tougher for the Orcas
But the whale still thought we were good enough to hang out with, poking up beside boats and sniffing at peoples' dogs, coming close for a head rub.
Not normal for a whale, of course. They're supposed to swim with other whales. That's important for them, and for their species. The U.S. government declared Puget Sound Orcas an endangered species last month. The loss of a young male is significant.
Some groups wanted Luna captured and hauled down by truck from Gold River to southern Vancouver Island, and then re-united with his pod. They say his death shows it was a mistake not to take action much earlier, before Luna had become so used to contact with people. Springer, another wayward Orca, was successfully reunited with his pod in a similar process.
Maybe. I'm not so sure.
There was no guarantee that the plan would work, or that Luna would survive. If he was released in southern waters, and failed to start acting more like a normal whale, he would be a serious menace to the heavier boat traffic. The plan then was to capture him and send him off to an aquarium.
And who knows why Luna ended up alone in Nootka Sound. Maybe he was shunned, and for some good biological reason - a recognition by the other whales of some deficiency that made him a destructive genetic force.
Maybe he just ddn't get along with his family. (Another reason some people may have been so fond of L-98, as Luna was properly known.)
Maybe he was just strange, the way some people are. Rent Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man, a documentary about a researcher who prefers the company of Alaskan grizzlies to people. He's a strange man. And he ends up eaten by the bears. Kind of a species-reversed version of Luna.
The DFO and others are calling for an investigation into how the problem of Luna was handled.
It's reasonable idea. There may be something to learn by looking back at how the strange story unfolded. Luna showed up in Nootka Sound as a one-year-old, almost five years ago, and soon began coming into contact with boats.
The process of figuring out what to do got tied up in mistrust of the DFO, scientific disagreement and the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation's belief that Luna carried the spirit of a revered chief, who died around the time the whale showed up. The delays made successful reunification less likely. So instead the First Nation was paid to try and look out for Luna.
A modest investigation, with input from everyone involved, might ensure we do better if this happens again.
But I was camping on the weekend, just south of Campbell River with a gang of kids. We went for a walk, brilliant sun off the new snow, the ocean on side and a pond on the other. Truly beautiful. And as we came through some trees, we saw a Trumpeter Swan on the thin ice of the pond, its neck broken and its head almost dragging on the ice.
Perhaps an eagle had attacked, or the swan had landed awkwardly on the unexpected ice - we didn't know. It staggered a few steps, fell. Rose again. Walked a few steps, fell and stayed down, feathers ruffling in the breeze.
Everything dies. Our fondness for them doesn't change that.
Footnote: it's faintly troubling how much we were moved by Luna, and how little we are moved by the plight of people in real suffering. About $500,000 in donations was pledged to help relocate the whale, and the government spent a great deal on top of that. Anyone who has tried to seek donations knows just how difficult it is to raise that much money to help people.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Now that Luna has died, the Indians claim that it wasn't their fault. and suddenly the spirit of th dead chief is now attached to a wolf. The T/C had a story today and the guy who wrote it said his group had tried to move Luna when he was still small and quite young. Greater minds said no. The feds finally got into the act but the local band got in the way. Who to blame? Well take your pick