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2004 - Orca Killer Whale Research Expedition in Nootka Sound, BC was initially contacted by Dr. Paul Spong of OrcaLab in April of 2004. Dr. Spong asked if we might be able to assist in searching for Luna's family. Luna belongs to one of the clans of the Southern Resident community of Killer Whale, or orca, which is known as the L-Pod. Historically, the Southern Residents swim past Nootka Sound during the May / June timeframe on their way to the San Juan Islands in Washington State.

Our mission was simple: sail the ANON to Friendly Cove, at the mouth of Nootka Sound, and use our on-board hydrophones to listen for Southern Resident calls. Upon first contact with any Southern Resident, we were to call the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and they were to conduct a boat follow, leading Luna to the mouth of Nootka Sound and hopefully to within acoustic range of each other.

anon search Luna L-Pod

sailboat research vessel All was well, and the ANON set sail at the end of April. We set anchor in Friendly Cove on May 8, 2004.

However, once we arrived, we realized that the way the underwater rocks were laid out significantly reduced our acoustic 'visibility' to the whole of Nootka Sound. We quickly realized that in order to maintain a proper vigil, we would have to leave the cove and spend most of our time sailing in the open waters of Nootka Sound and the Pacific Ocean.

The ANON logged 313 hours of sail during the month of May alone. Typically, we would set sail from Friendly Cove, and sail a triangle from Nuchalitz to the north and Estevan Point to the south. Although there were times when we would sail as far north as Kyuquot, as far south as Ucluelet, and as far west as La Peruse Banks.

The picture to the right is a track-log from our on-board navigation computers, and it shows a typical search day.

But the soft, natural reunion was not to happen this spring. The L-Pod chose to swim down the east side of Vancouver Island, and so Luna never got the chance to hear their calls.

When the DFO capture operation was called off, the DFO vowed to enter into talks with the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations band in order to ensure Luna's safety, the public's safety, and that any future plans for Luna, whom they call Tsu'xiit, would be sure to respect both Luna and the Mowachaht/Muchalaht people's desire to keep him out of an aquarium.

anon search L-Pod map

captain Keith at the helm During the initial days after the capture was canceled, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht people commandeered one of their oyster farming vessels (the Wi-Hut-Suh-Nup) to take on the responsibility of keeping an eye on Luna, and submitted to DFO a plan for stewardship.

Unfortunately, it took 2 months for the DFO to find funding for the proposed plan, and the Wi-Hut-Suh-Nup had to return to normal duties. This left Luna without stewardship or even supervision for much of that time.

But the silver lining finaly came when the DFO agreed to the plan and contributed $10,000 to help fund it. That was enough money to keep the Wi-Hut-Suh-Nup on the water during the fall's fisheries openings, but it still left many days when Luna was unsupervised. OrcaLab, on behalf of the many NGOs who had helped Luna over the years, contributed another $5,000 to help with stewardship over the winter.

At the time of this writing, the summer 2005 boating season is quickly approaching. More funds are needed to ensure that Luna remains protected from careless and/or curious boaters, and the Mowachaht/Muchalaht people have once again put together an excellent stewardship plan. To find out how you can help us ensure that this plan is a success, please look here...

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