June 25, 2004
Plans to capture Luna and reunite the lone orca with his family in Puget Sound were postponed indefinitely yesterday by the Canadian government in hopes of settling differences with Indians opposing the action.
"We have had a number of discussions with them and have attempted to accommodate their needs and views in our operations," the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said in a statement.
"It is evident however, that further discussions are required, and in the interest of public safety and the well-being of the whale, we will be meeting with First Nations over the coming days to review options."
Members of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht band believe that a deceased chief spiritually inhabits the 4-year-old male orca, which arrived in their waters off Vancouver Island three years ago -- about the time of the chief's death.
Leaders of the band say they were not included in the planning of the capture and attempted reunification, which they find disrespectful.
They want Luna, whom they call Tsuxiit, left alone.
"Our first and foremost thing is, let nature take its course," said Mike Maquinna, the band's chief.
If the orca decides to leave on his own, that's all right, Maquinna said. And "if he chooses to stay here, that's fine, too."
Maquinna said the existing plan is flawed and needs to be scrapped so the process can start over.
Fisheries and Oceans officials did consult with Maquinna while planning the capture, said department spokeswoman Lara Sloan.
While the agency wanted to leave Luna in Nootka Sound with protective monitoring, Sloan said the playful whale became too much of an attraction and needed to be relocated for his own protection.
It's unclear when the effort to capture Luna will resume or how much the delay will cost the plan, which is funded by $200,000 from the U.S. and Canadian governments and about $250,000 in cash and in-kind donations.
Luna's relatives, known as the L-pod, generally linger near the San Juan Islands until the end of September, when they head to the ocean. They usually return in June.
Maquinna's band has been waging a successful game of aquatic tug of war for the past week.
The Indians have been out in canoes, singing and pounding their paddles -- luring the orca away from his would-be captors, who want to put him in an underwater net pen while he undergoes medical tests.
"People pulled together and believed in our traditions and culture," said Rudolph Dick, 36, who has been getting up before dawn every day to join the effort.
The government's reunion plan calls for trucking Luna more than 200 miles to a pen near Victoria, where he would be released when his pod swims into acoustic range.
The number of Puget Sound orcas has declined in recent decades, and Luna could provide needed genetic diversity.