Friday, June 25, 2004

I love this!

I haven't been this psyched since that sea lion was spotted 150 miles north of San Diego after swimming up a river, through a freshwater creek and waddling over land for a few miles before climbing on top of that police cruiser.

NPR did a bit on this yesterday, and then I started researching it. Basically, this orca whale named Luna has been stuck in Nootka Sound off the coast of British Columbia since 2001. He was separated from his pod of killer whales and has since then become friendly with boats, float planes and people in general. Which apparently is becoming dangerous, as he swam into the path of a landing float plane a few weeks ago, but also because someone tried to pour beer in his blowhole. Lovely.

Anyway, there's this whale specialist who studies killer whales in the region. She recognized Luna, who is now five, by his markings, and she knows where his pod is, as she has tracked its migrations patterns for years. The Canadian Dept of Fisheries has hired the very best whale wranglers in the world to try to coax Luna into a net, then put him on a special "for transport of several ton aquatic animals" and drive him 125 miles to Victoria, where they will put him in a special pen (in the ocean) until his pod swims by, at which point he will be released.

The naturalist has studied the pod's specific sounds and communications, and apparently, Luna calls out to his "family" every hour. The call hasn't changed in the three years he's been in this part of the sound (between fjords), so she's "99.9% certain" that if he gets within acoustical range of the pod, he will reunite successfully.

However, a tribe of Native Canadians believes that he is the re-incarnated spirit of their chief, who, on his deathbed, promised to come back in the form of an orca. Luna showed up a few days after his death. The Mowachaht-Muchalaht tribe also wants to reunite Luna with his pod, if only to keep him out of danger, but they want to do it naturally.

So the tribe has organized a group of experienced paddlers who are leading Luna away from the net and back out to sea (toward the pod). They are singing traditional Mowachaht-Muchalaht songs that describe the group's historical connection to killer whales, and apparently, the songs are similar to the whales calls, etc.

So even though dozens scientists and whale wranglers are using bait and complex technology to lure Luna to the net, Luna is following the singing indigenous people in canoes. I LOVE that. And I love that there are people who have the skills to navigate the open ocean in basic dug-out canoes. I love that they are willing to paddle 250 miles roundtrip through pods of migrating killer whales so that Luna doesn't have to be trapped, lifted out of the water, and driven to his specific pod.

That's so great.

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