Reports from OrcaLab's Luna research project, Spring 2005
We thought it might be useful, as background to understanding Luna's present situation, to provide some of the information gathered by the research project OrcaLab has conducted in Nootka Sound over the past several months, with support from US & Canadian non government organizations. The project has been conducted with the approval of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation, and during March-May with a Scientific Licence from the DFO. It has been collecting behavioural and acoustic data that relate to Luna's "normal" daily life, i.e. outside the busy summer boating season.
|Researcher Lisa Larson observes L98 from a land-based research station on a cliff near Gold River. Photo © Luna Research Project.|
The project was designed to be low key, in that it was given no publicity in order to avoid attracting attention to it or to Luna. It has used OrcaLab's "non-intrusive" techniques, whereby observations are made from land observation sites, and acoustic recordings are obtained via remote hydrophones. An old wooden vessel, the Henrietta , donated by a generous Washington State couple, was used to move the project's crew to various observation locations in Nootka Sound, and for accommodations.
Two primary observation locations were established, one on a high cliff above the Gold River light which provided an overview of eastern Muchalat Inlet, and another on a hillside above Tuta Marina which overlooks the intersection of 3 main waterways in western Nootka Sound. Remote hydrophone stations were set up at locations near each of the observation sites. As things turned out, the hydrophone sites were perfectly placed for listening to Luna day and night during most of the 3 month study, and a total of over 100 hours of recordings of Luna's vocalizations have been made. These recordings will prove useful to scientists when Luna is reunited with his orca community. They also reveal that Luna has a fabulous voice, and show that he uses calls which identify him as a member of the L2 matriline that he comes from.
|Luna spent most of his time at the docks near Gold River in March. |
Photo © Luna Research Project.
During March, Luna spent much of his time near the Gold River docks, but in April and May he moved to western Nootka Sound and remained there most of the time, foraging successfully on salmon and generally conducting himself well around vessels that he was familiar with. At the beginning of June, Luna moved back to the Gold River docks and began interacting with boats and people again, as he has done in previous summers. Some of his activities were cause for concern, especially damage he did to an aircraft rudder while it was tied to the Air Nootka dock. The incident occurred during night time, when the Acoustic Deterrent Device (ADD) installed at the airplane dock was turned off. The ADD has proven effective during daytime in that Luna has moved away from the dock area when it was turned on. Since the rudder incident, Air Nootka staff have removed the rudders from their aircraft at night, to prevent Luna from damaging them again.
|To view the original reports from April 25 to May 9th, click the above image.|
Partly because of Luna's return to his old habits, the DFO has moved to implement "Plan B", the hard capture and move option for reuniting Luna with his orca community. Nootka Sound First Nations do no agree with this plan, and have used canoes to lead Luna away from the capture site near the Gold River docks, back to western Nootka Sound.
The following reports from OrcaLab's research project are slightly modified from weekly reports provided to the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation and the DFO. They provide details of Luna's behaviour when he was in western Nootka Sound at the end of May, and during the following week when he returned to the area around the Gold River docks. We hope they will be useful in providing some perspective regarding Luna's present situation.
We are also providing several graphs that summarize aspects of Luna's behaviour during the course of the study.
Luna research project report May 27-June 2
This week began as has been normal for Luna during the past 2 months, but ended with a significant change. He continued to stay in western parts of Nootka Sound most of the week, spending much of his time in the area of Anderson Point and Zuciarte Channel, foraging a lot of the time and occasionally interacting with vessels. Then, on June 2nd, he moved back to eastern Muchalat Inlet and the vicinity of the Gold River docks. He has remained there since, and seems to have resumed his habit of hanging out around the dock area, rubbing on vessels and interacting with people who are coming, in increasing numbers, to see him. In general, we began this week thinking that Luna was simply continuing his largely independent life, but ended it wondering whether he might be reverting to his people-focused habits.
|The observation station located in the western part of Nootka Sound allowed researchers to monitor Luna while he was in several different areas of the Sound.|
Here is a day by day summary of our observations for this week:
May 27. A calm, overcast day with some rain. Luna was first spotted by Anderson Point at 9:01am. He seemed to be foraging and remained by Anderson Point until at least 9:24am, when he was last seen from Tuta Marina. At 1:18pm, he was sighted mid channel north of Anderson Point, from the Tuta lookout. He moved a bit to the west, towards Bligh Island, before returning to Anderson Point, where he was last seen at 1:42pm. Some calls were heard on the Bligh Island hydrophone at 2:48pm. At 7:40pm, Luna was sighted again near the Anderson Point shore. Our crew then hiked back down to the marina. At 9:18pm, faint calls were heard for about 15', and then again at 9:52pm for about 40'.
|L98 spent the first part of the week of May 27th in the western part of Nootka Sound. © Luna Research Project.|
May 28. A calm, overcast, rainy day. Luna was first spotted at 9:02am when he breached by the cove just to the east of the Anderson Point light. A brown crew boat was approaching him from the west at the time. The vessel went up to where Luna was, and stopped. One person on board looked down as Luna rubbed against the hull. The boat slowly headed to the Mooyah Bay dock with Luna following. At 10:30am someone mentioned a "dolphin at the dock" on the VHF radio. Our crew had hummingbirds, eagles, waxwings and grouse around the Tuta lookout, but did not see Luna again until 4:45pm, when he was sighted next to the hull of a slowly moving prawn fishing vessel. Our Bligh Island hydrophone station went down at 3:50pm. Luna stayed with the prawn fishing boat until 5:33pm when he was last seen at the vessel's stern heading towards Hanna Channel. Our group expanded to 7 by late evening, with the arrival of supplies, the Anon , and new crew members.
May 29. An overcast day with heavy rain. Luna's blows were spotted at 10:15am from Tuta Marina - he was near the Anderson Point shore. The Anon left shortly after, to continue its search for orcas offshore. The rest of our crew headed over to Bligh Island, intending to check the hydrophone station out, but was unable to land because of sea conditions. Instead, they returned to Tuta Marina and hiked up to the lookout. Many vessels were seen passing close to Anderson Point, but there was no sighting of Luna until 4:34pm when he was seen near the hull of a prawn fishing boat close to Anderson Point. He followed the vessel as it headed into Hanna Channel, and was last seen at 5:26pm. At 11:10pm, far range "intense" calls were heard on the Henrietta's hydrophone at Tuta Marina for about 40'. During that time, 3 faint blows were also heard in the calm night from the direction of Anderson Point.
|Average length of observed foraging by L98, broken down by month. © Luna Research Project.|
May 30. A cool, overcast day with showers. There were no sightings of Luna on this day, from either the Tuta Marina or the Tuta lookout. The Bligh Island hydrophone station was down all day except for between 3:30pm and 4:30pm, when it was sunny. No calls were heard during this time. Faint calls from Luna were heard on the Henrietta's hydrophone at Tuta Marina, beginning at 10:55pm and lasting about 40'.
May 31. A cool, calm, overcast day with heavy rain. Visitors coming to Tuta Marina from Gold River via zodiac didn't seen Luna on their way out. At 11:50am, the Uchuck passed Tuta Marina headed west. Later, the Uchuck's crew reported that Luna had been with them, on their port side, from Atrevida to Zuciarte Channel, when he left them. The Bligh Island hydrophone station remained down all day, and Luna was not sighted from the Tuta lookout. Luna did not seem to spend any time near Anderson Point during this day. Our crew headed back to Tuta Marina at 7pm. At 10:49pm, for about 5' a few faint calls were heard from Luna on the Henrietta's hydrophone.
|One of Luna's favourite vessels is the MV Uchuck III, shown here near Gold River. Photo © Luna Research Project.|
June 1. A calm, cool, overcast day with rain. At 10:25am, a blow and Luna's dorsal fin were spotted near the Anderson Point shore as the rain haze lifted a little. At 3:23pm, Luna was seen breaching in mid Zuciarte Channel off the Bligh Island eastern light. He continued on towards Anderson Point, where he was last seen at 3:32pm. Later, the A.G. Ford reported that Luna followed them for a while as they traveled east between Cleeptree Creek and Houston River, where he left them at 11:08pm.
June 2. A cool morning followed by a calm & clear day. Luna was reported to have followed the Coastguard vessel Atlin Post from Mooyah Bay, where it was moored overnight, to just east of Gore Island, where he left them at 11:15am. There were no sightings of Luna from the Tuta lookout all day, and the Bligh Island hydrophone station remained down. Later, it was reported that at 10:45pm Luna was by the Gold River dock and then at the river mouth. It is not certain when he arrived. This day ended with a big yellow moon lighting up the calm night.
|Luna is seen here foraging in eastern Muchalat Inlet. Photo © Luna Research Project.|
We ended up this week worrying about the implications of Luna moving back to eastern Muchalat Inlet and breaking the pattern he has kept to for the past 2 months. Since then, we have become more concerned, partly because Luna is spending a lot of his time near the Gold River dock, and partly because more and more people are arriving. In the days since June 2nd, it has become clear that people are not willing to leave Luna alone. The Henrietta and our crew are now back at the Gold River docks.
Preparations to capture and hold Luna are moving forward, though no firm date has yet been set. We keep hoping that Southern Resident orcas will show up off Nootka Sound, and that Luna will get a chance to hear and meet them. So far, this hasn't happened, and it seems that most of L Pod, including Luna's mother and brother, have returned to southern Vancouver Island waters. However, they are still making swings out to the west coast, and part of L Pod along with all of K Pod have not been sighted since they were off Tofino on May 17th. To our mind, the possibility of a "natural" reunion between Luna and his orca community is still there, though the chances must realistically be considered slim. Still hoping, the Anon continues to sail out to sea each day, looking and listening... our fingers are crossed!
|The observation station located near Gold River gives researches an excellent view of the docks and Muchalat Inlet.|
Luna research project report June 3- 9
This week marked a significant change for Luna. The focus of his activities moved from western Nootka Sound back to eastern Muchalat Inlet, including the Gold River docks. Though he continued to manage himself well in most ways, Luna also got into "trouble". The Acoustic Deterrent Device (ADD) installed at the Air Nootka dock was used effectively on 3 occasions on June 7th, all within a short period. Each time, Luna moved away quickly, so our initial conclusion was that the device was effective. However, at night 2 days later (June 9th) after the Air Nootka staff had left for the day, Luna returned to the aircraft dock and damaged the rudder on a float plane tied to the dock. The damage disabled the aircraft, and it has not yet been repaired. Our understanding is that DFO has agreed to cover the repair costs, but the absence of the aircraft has impacted Air Nootka's business. This incident, together with the perception of a near accident as an Air Nootka plane landed close to Luna on June 8th, has resulted in a heightened sense and expression of urgency by the DFO regarding the need to move Luna from Nootka Sound. Preparations are well underway for capturing Luna as the first part of the DFO's "Plan B", and though we continue to cling to the slight hope that "Plan A" might still be possible, we are no longer optimistic.
Here is a day by day summary of our observations during this week:
|Luna spent several minutes rubbing against this zodiac on June 3, 2004. Photo © Luna Research Project.|
June 3. A clear, breezy day. No calls from Luna were heard overnight on the Henrietta hydrophone at Tuta Marina. In mid morning, the Uchuck reported that Luna was not sighted on their run west from Gold River. However, at 1:05pm, the A.G. Ford reported that Luna was coming up to them at Jacklah Bay. He followed them until 2:45pm, when the vessel was at McCurdy Creek. The Henrietta departed Tuta Marina for the Gold River docks in the late afternoon. At 6:55pm, the A.G. Ford reported that Luna had followed them from McCurdy Creek to the Gold River docks. Shortly after, a small vessel operator reported that Luna was at the public dock when he arrived in his zodiac at 7:40pm. As he attempted to dock, Luna lifted the stern up so the prop was out of the water. The operator turned the engine off, tied up quickly, and left the lower dock area. The Henrietta arrived at the pulp mill dock at 9:05pm and tied up. Luna was away from the public dock at the time. He was not seen again later, at 11pm, when the dock area was visited briefly.
June 4. A clear, breezy day. At 12:37am, Luna's calls were heard on the cliff hydrophone for about 20'. At 2:21am, more calls were heard on the cliff hydrophone for about 30'. At 3:46am, calls and echolocation were heard intermittently on the cliff hydrophone for about 1.5 hours. There were no further signs of Luna until 2:31pm, when the A.G. Ford reported him coming up to them at Jacklah Bay. He then followed the vessel into the pulp mill dock. At 3pm, calls were heard on the cliff hydrophone for about 5', then at 3:30pm, Luna was spotted foraging just south of the mill dock. He kept foraging back and forth a few hundred meters south of the pulp mill & public docks until 6pm, when he moved into the inner public dock area. He moved around among the docked boats, with a small number of people watching him, until 6:30pm when he moved out to meet an incoming logging tug that he followed into the dock behind the Uchuck . At 6:45pm, the tug left, heading towards Jacklah Bay again, together with an aluminum boat being towed behind. Luna was last seen at 6:47pm near the stern of the aluminum boat. At 11:54pm, Luna's calls were heard on the cliff hydrophone for about 40'.
|The number of visits Luna made to the docks. © Luna Research Project.|
June 5. An overcast, calm day with rain. Luna's calls were heard on the cliff hydrophone until about 12:30am, then again at 3:31am for about 20'. At 6:58am, Luna was heard calling on the cliff hydrophone for about 10'. Then, at 7:45am, echolocation was heard on the Henrietta's hydrophone at the pulp mill dock for about an hour. At 8:45am, Luna was spotted in front of a tug heading west, and at 9:52am he was back foraging south of the pulp mill dock. He kept on foraging, mid-inlet south of the docks, until 11:45am, when he headed over to the Atlin Post as it left the dock to make room for another vessel. Luna remained beside the hull of the Atlin Post as it drifted off the dock area until around 4:30pm. The Coast Guard vessel then headed slowly west with Luna still beside it, calling a few times. Luna must have followed only briefly, because at 4:52pm he was spotted moving slowly just south of the Gold River light, probably foraging. He was last seen at 4:55pm when our crew left the dock area. At 11:50pm, far range calls were heard from Luna on the cliff hydrophone, lasting about 50'.
|A Coast Guard officer watches Luna from the Atlin Post. © Luna Research Project / Anon.org.|
June 6. An overcast, calm day. The calls that began just before midnight lasted until about 12:40am. At 1:05am, calls and echolocation were heard for about 20', then again at 2:08am for about 30'. At 10:28am, Luna was spotted foraging south of the pulp mill dock, and sporadic echolocation was heard on the Henrietta's hydrophone, also at the pulp mill dock. Luna was last seen foraging at 11:40am, and at 12:35pm he was spotted by a logging tug at the public dock. He moved over to the inner dock area at 1:02pm, where he had a human audience on both the upper and lower docks. At 1:56pm, he moved over to a logging tug behind the Uchuck. At 6:57pm, calls and echolocation were heard on the cliff hydrophone for about 20'. At 10:08pm, whistles, calls and echolocation were heard from Luna on the cliff hydrophone, lasting for about 3 hours.
|Luna takes a peek at some people on a vessel. Photo © Luna Research Project.|
June 7. An overcast, drizzly, breezy day. Calls were heard on the cliff hydrophone until 1am. Then again at 6:54am for about 40'. Beginning at 8:39am, echolocation was heard intermittently for the next 5 hours as Luna kept foraging back and forth just south of the pulp mill dock. At 1:02pm, a big tug arrived at the blood boom & Luna headed over to it. He followed it back to the west at 1:12pm. At 1:19pm, calls were heard on the cliff hydrophone for about 5', and at 1:38pm Luna was spotted heading east a few hundred meters south of the pulp mill dock. He continued to forage until about 2:18pm, when he began to follow a skiff around that was working on the pen at the mill dock. Around 3pm, he was distracted by an incoming tug and followed it into the public dock, arriving at 3:10pm. Luna remained in the public dock area, moving around among the boats tied up there until 5:10pm, when he followed a small skiff towards the river mouth. At 5:15pm, he left the skiff and moved over to the docked float planes. At 5:18pm, he started to push on the rudder of a float plane, at which point the ADD was turned on briefly by Air Nootka staff. Luna left immediately and moved over to the inner public dock area. At 6:28pm, another small boat came close to the float planes, with Luna at its stern, and at 6:30pm he was again near the rudder of a float plane tied to the dock. The ADD was turned on again, for about 30", and again Luna moved over to the inner public dock area. At 6:34pm, Luna was on his way back towards the biggest float plane, which was warming up its engine. The ADD was turned on again, this time for about 40", and again, Luna moved away, back to the inner public dock area. Luna remained in the public dock area until our crew left at 9:30pm. Luna must have left the dock area within the following hour, as beginning at 10:21pm, his calls and echolocation were heard on the cliff hydrophone for about 2 hours.
|Luna is seen here near a local vessel. © Luna Research Project.|
June 8. A calm, clear day. Brief echolocation was heard on the cliff hydrophone at 8:30am. At the time, the pen workers were making banging sounds underwater at the mill pier. At 10:02am, close echolocation was heard as Luna was spotted foraging just south of the mill dock, with seagulls above him. At 10:05am, he followed at tug out to the west but soon returned. At 10:10am he appeared to be resting as he headed east slowly, just east of the Gold River light. At 10:36am, he moved over to a skiff working on the pen, remaining with it until 10:45am when he moved out to 100m south of the western pier. At 10:47am, a Nootka Air float plane landed close to Luna. This later caused comment about a "near collision", but the pilot was not worried. At 11am Luna was back at the pen skiff; at 11:17am he started foraging south of the mill dock again. Calls and echolocation were heard at 12:20pm, lasting about 20'. Luna continued to forage until 1:17pm, when he was seen next to a tug towing a barge heading towards the pulp mill log boom. At 1:30pm, the tug moved a bit to the west and Luna breached once in front of it, just east of the Gold River light. He remained in that area until 1:47pm, when he returned to the tug by the log boom. He remained with the tug working at the log boom until it headed over to the public dock, arriving at 3pm with Luna behind. Luna then stayed in the public dock area, moving around the docked boats and out to the tug working in the log boom, for the entire evening and night. A couple of faint calls were heard on the cliff hydrophone while Luna was still in the public dock area at 10:18pm. At midnight, he was slowly moving around among the boats at the dock, resting, with the crew watching. Next morning, the crew of the tug Glenshiel reported that Luna had stayed next to their vessel all night.
|Luna at the public dock at Gold River. Photo © Luna Research Project.|
June 9. A breezy day with sun & clouds. At 8:43am, Luna's calls and echolocation were heard on the cliff hydrophone for about 30'. At 9:41am, he was spotted heading east past the Gold River light, about 1/3 out, south of the pulp mill dock. At 9:47am, Luna was approaching the skiff working on the pen, and at 9:51am he was sighted next to it. He followed the skiff around the mill dock area until about 11am. At 11:25am Luna was spotted bow-riding the tug Glenshiel as it headed out to the west, and at 11:44am, calls and echolocation were heard on the cliff hydrophone, lasting about 25'. At 3:47pm, Luna was again seen with the Glenshiel , now back working with a barge at the pulp mill log boom. Luna followed the Glenshiel back to the public dock, and at 4:35pm was moving around among the docked boats, especially the prawn fishing boats with their running hoses. At 9:23pm he was resting next to the boats in the inner dock area, and was last seen at 9:55pm when our crew headed back to the Henrietta at the pulp mill dock. Shortly after, Luna was reported pushing on the rudders of the float planes at the Nootka Air dock. At 10:30pm, Grant of Air Nootka came down and found a damaged rudder on his largest aircraft.
In summing up this week, we have to report that we became worried in several ways. Luna's move to eastern Muchalat Inlet, and his frequent interactions with vessels in the public dock area were disconcerting, especially in the light of the largely independent behaviour we had been observing during the previous 2 months. None of Luna's interactions with people or vessels were cause for serious concern in that no harm was done, but the damage to the float plane rudder is disturbing. The Air Nootka owners were tolerant of the incident, partly because they had other aircraft to use in place of the damaged one. However, they also indicated that the business consequences for them would have been much more serious had the aircraft been disabled during their busy season. Adding to this was the perception on the part of the DFO and other observers that an Air Nootka plane had almost landed on top on Luna. The pilot of the plane did not believe the incident was a "near miss" and was not concerned, but the media reports played it up as a near tragedy. The upshot has been that the DFO is now intent on moving Luna out of Nootka Sound as quickly as possible. Preparations to capture him as the first phase of "Plan B" are going ahead, partly because most of L Pod, including Luna's mother and brother, are now in southern Vancouver Island waters. Despite the odds, the Anon with skipper Keith Wood at the helm, continues to sail the seas off Nootka Sound in hopes that other Southern Resident orcas will yet come near enough for Luna to be led out to them. It has become a very remote possibility, but even if it can't happen, our sense still is that a long "boat follow" option would be preferable to the hard capture and move method for reuniting Luna with his orca community. Unfortunately, like the "soft" reunion we have been hoping and working for, that is now a long shot as well. We are left with hoping for the best for Luna in what lies ahead for him. Our faith is that no matter how it is accomplished, once Luna comes into contact with his orca kin again, he will be ok, and his life will go on.