Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm
Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm
September 15, 2005
Report from Nootka Sound, Sept 14, 2005
By Mike Parfit
Copuright 2005 by Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm
Luna’s doing fine. We’ve been sidelined by boat problems. (It’s old, has a keel made of boat bumpers and a highly functional but somewhat unusual stringer system, designed and built by a friend who’s a technical genius, that’s kind of like the stainless steel rods they put in your back when your vertebrae aren’t doing the job.) But the boat’s back.
I spent much of the day on the water and on the shorelines yesterday, watching Luna from the rocks.
From a few informal reports given us by friends, it looks as if Luna’s had a busy ten days. He’s spent a fair amount of his time foraging outside of his familiar territory. Most of his abundant interaction has been with the working boats of the Sound, including barges, tugs, and dozer boats; though he apparently spent at least a couple of hours at the Gold River dock one day last week – one of the few times he’s been there in the last six months.
Yesterday a friend reported that Luna was playing with the buoy at the end of a long-liner’s line, and that’s where I found him. The long-liners come to Nootka Sound to catch dogfish on the bottom, and they put a big red float at each end of the line. The line and floats were a few kilometres from Luna’s favourite territory, but our friend saw him playing with and around one of those for much of the morning yesterday. When I got to a nearby rock to watch, I could see his head pop up first on one side of the float, then the other, then the float would move sideways as if nudged by a hidden hand, then Luna’s head would pop up again. But by the time I got there he was apparently getting bored or hungry, so he soon went off to forage in the inlet.
Several boats passed while he was hunting, including sports fishermen trolling and a slow long-liner, but he didn’t follow. Then a tug came barreling along with a bone in its teeth, headed up the Sound after moving a raft of logs, and he jumped into its wake and porpoised along all the way back to his territory. Once home, he dropped off the wake and foraged for a few minutes. I was quite far away at the time, but it looked as if he breached at least once: big splash.
Then Luna hooked up with another favourite boat, a big working boat that carries supplies and equipment up and down the sound. The boat was delivering a new pen to one of the fish farms, and Luna went over to check out all the splashing and clanging. He spent much of the afternoon there. He seemed very peaceful and at ease with the boat. It’s an interesting thing: Luna often rests with this particular boat, snuggling up to its large hull and lying there for many minutes at a time with his back mostly out of the water, breathing gently.
I remember once, a year and a half ago, long before the capture attempt, watching Luna doing that at the stern of this same boat when it was tied up in Gold River. It was late evening, and the lights were on, and on the boat people were sitting in the lighted galley, talking quietly, while in another large boat right next to it three crew members were watching a movie. Both boats were big, and in them was the murmur of generators, over that you could also hear a bit of the mumble of voices and music from the movie.
The lights from these two rooms fell very softly on the dark water between the boats, a triangular space only about five metres on a side. In that space, surrounded by steel and wood, Luna floated, rising and falling slightly, just enough so some water washed occasionally across his back. Much of the time he floated so close to his big, dark friend that he seemed to be leaning against its hull.
He was there for at least an hour; in fact he may have been there all night, because Suzanne and I left. Though I cannot get into an orca’s head, my own mood as we sat on the upper dock watching, the last of Luna’s spectators of the evening, was of both companionship and loneliness. The faces inside the boats were turned toward other humans, or video facsimiles thereof, and no one knew he was there except us, and I don’t think Luna was aware that we were watching from high on the dock. Yet he somehow found peace and safety and perhaps enough of the familiar there to be able to rest.
He did a little of that yesterday, but mostly he moved around the workers, playing gently here and there. They were hoisting floats off the boat into the water, and he could have made the work difficult by pushing the floats around, but he didn’t. The only time I saw him push one, it was in the direction the workers wanted it to go, and when it was in position, he went off to play with something else. At one point he noticed a stack of railings at the edge of a float, and he started playing with them, lifting his upper body a few feet out of the water to push at them with his nose, at which point several of them fell part way over the side. One of the workers ran and grabbed them, and for a moment Luna held a couple of them against the side of the boat so the worker couldn’t pull them back up. “Come on, Luna!” the guy said. Luna let go.
That was about the only direct interaction between people and Luna the whole afternoon. The men just worked, and Luna just hung out, mostly taking it easy and keeping an eye on things, a bit like a lazy supervisor who comes around with his coffee cup to chat just when you're trying to get things done. Once again I had a sense that he was comfortable with this boat, not concerned that it was going to get up and dash away before he was ready, not demanding active play, just somehow reassured to be there.
That’s an emotional reach across species, I know, but there's one thing about all this stuff that Luna has done all these years, for better or for worse: it has shown us that between these two so different species of humans and orcas, there are pieces of living that are similar, needs for something other than just food that can be met – even if very inadequately – by contact between us. In our sense of what Luna really needs – other whales – we have chosen to deliberately deny him as much of that contact as we have been able to, but what remains has a story in it, and in that story are lessons that we do not yet know how to understand.
Late in the afternoon the work was done and the boat headed back to Gold River. Luna followed in its wake for only a few hundred metres, then dropped off to stay near the bay to which he has always returned.