Joint Stewardship Project for Luna Reached on Vancouver Island

By Lloyd Dolha

The Mowachalt-Muchlaht First Nation of Vancouver Island and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have signed an agreement to help protect the public and ensure the safety of Luna (Tsux’it), the lone killer whale in Nootka Sound.

The goal of the Luna Stewardship plan is to provide a safe environment for Luna, while the killer whale remains in Nootka Sound area; and to increase public safety for boaters and other marine users in the area.

The five year-old killer whale, still considered a juvenile at that age, has been roaming alone in Nootka Sound off western Vancouver Island for the past three years, separated from its family pod much further to the south.

Luna became the focus of a pitched stand-off between the northern Vancouver Island First Nation and federal scientists in June, when federal officials tried to capture the 1,360-kilogram whale as part of an effort to reunite the orca with his pod south of Vancouver Island.

Members of the local First Nation intervened, taking to the ocean in canoes to lure Luna away from the capture pen with chants and drums. After a tense week-long stand-off, the plan to capture Luna was shelved.

The Mowachaht-Muchalaht believe that Luna embodies the spirit of their late chief, Ambrose Macquinna, who said he would return to them in the form of a whale after he died.

Days after the chief’s death three years ago, Luna appeared in the Gold River area.

Federal officials have become concerned that Luna’s increasingly friendly behaviour that included bumping into boats and hanging out at the Gold River dock, would lead to some tragedy. There have been numerous complaints in the area of the orca rubbing against vessels and floatplanes and growing concerns that his behaviour may become aggressive.

As part of the agreement, Fisheries and Oceans contributed $10,000 to the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation. The First Nation and DFO will monitor the whale in a joint stewardship program through the Nuu chah-nulth Tribal Council Fisheries agreement.
Both parties will monitor the activities of Luna while the killer whale remains in the area; as well as the interaction of Luna with the general public.

The First Nation and DFO will record and report information to DFO Conservation and Protection staff for any violations of the Marine Mammal regulations.

The stewardship plan does not address future plans for Luna and long term arrangements have yet to be developed.
DFO officials are still intent on reuniting Luna with his family pod, but members of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht believe that nature should take it course.

“The fact remains there is still a whale in our territory,” said Chief Mike Macquinna. “We still have two canoes in the water and we’re willing to stand beside Luan and let nature take its course.”