December 22, 2005
As write this, I am listening to LunaLive, a web site where researchers log in and listen to Luna, the solitary orca residing in remote Nootka Sound, British Columbia.
Luna is calling, and calling a lot.
Every time I hear Luna, I marvel at the technology which allows me to do so: an underwater microphone (or hydrophone) hooked-up to a solar powered VHF radio transmitter located in Nootka Sound that sends a signal 7km away to a computer hooked-up to a satellite dish. The signal is then beamed a few hundred kilometers into space, received in Washington State, and then sent to a server where a maximum of six researchers at a time can listen to Luna from anywhere on Earth. A dedicated small group of NGOs, all having the same goals of keeping Luna safe, learning about orcas, and advocating for a reunion between Luna and his pod, have managed to overcome very difficult technical hurdles in order to create and maintain this amazing web site.
LunaLive has already helped track Luna’s whereabouts in the area covered by the hydrophone, monitoring his foraging habits, the boat traffic around him, and even his interactions with other orcas. Although his family has yet to return to Nootka Sound, this technology might just give researchers the necessary alert to the long awaited natural reunion between Luna and his family.
And every time I run this through my mind I think to myself, “If a few NGOs, on a shoestring budget with McGyver-like gear can do this, why can’t DFO (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) provide some funding to expand the program?” If DFO would do this, then researchers could hear orcas near Nootka Sound, or maybe they would be able to hear Luna 24/7, instead of only the times that he is near the single hydrophone right now.
I often think about the thousands of hours NGOs have put in monitoring Luna, discussing Luna, trying to keep him safe and working ideas towards a reunion. I then find myself wondering if DFO is doing the same? It appears to me that they are not. My conclusion is, if DFO had the commitment of NGOs, then Luna would be safer and there would be a better chance of a reunion.
Canadian citizens—and people from around the world—have asked DFO for two years to keep Luna safe by providing adequate funding for stewardship and develop and implement an acceptable reunification plan. They have done neither.
Would it be too much to ask DFO to consult with experts on solitary mammals, and seek input from concerned NGOs about an effective monitoring programme for Luna? It seems to me that DFO, with a relatively small amount of funding and commitment, could still help solve Luna’s predicament. Imagine… if DFO helped NGOs to establish additional hydrophones in Nootka Sound? Imagine the ability to cover more of Nootka Sound, and the information about Luna that would become available. Imagine… if DFO helped NGOs establish hydrophones outside Nootka Sound that could help determine when Southern Resident orcas are nearby, and create opportunities to lead Luna towards them?
LunaLive has proven that other orcas enter Nootka Sound occasionally. On two documented occasions during 2005, Luna was heard being vocal when other orcas were nearby. The “other” orcas were transients and Northern Residents. However, Nootka Sound is also within the normal range of Luna’s community, the Southern Residents. It is possible that Southern Resident orcas could go there this winter, or sometime soon. If that happens, Luna’s problem could be solved.
It seems to me that with a willingness to work cooperatively with NGOs and First Nations, along with a modest amount of funding, DFO could significantly improve Luna’s prospects for reuniting naturally with his community. Sadly, DFO seems unwilling or unable to move proactively to help Luna.
What is amusing to me is that every internal memo from DFO staff to Deputy Minister Larry Murray or DFO Minister Geoff Reagan has a paragraph on the last page that states, “The Department has strong credibility in science and marine mammals. DFO’s role in addressing safety concerns and protecting the long-term wellbeing of the whale (Luna) is recognized.”
Does anyone at DFO actually believe this? The general public does not. Nor do many NGOs. BUT… if DFO finally accepts their responsibility toward Luna, assumes leadership and exercises the necessary commitment to a natural reunion this winter, they still have a chance to make that statement a reality.