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Captivity is one option for orca Luna says Department of Fisheries & Oceans

Jack Keating
The Province

2st1August 2003

CREDIT: Debra Brash ~ Times Colonist

CanWest News Services

Luna, a three-year-old orca, hangs around a tugboat at the docks off Gold River. Luna has been in the news since June as he has become more friendly with humans.

An environmental group is outraged to learn yesterday that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans may place Luna, the friendly orca whale, in captivity.

"I think it would be a public-relations nightmare for the DFO and everybody involved if [Luna] was placed into captivity," said Annelise Sorg of the Coalition for No Whales in Captivity. "It's a ridiculous idea."

Sorg was reacting to news the DFO will soon decide the fate of Luna, which could include placing the three-year-old male orca in captivity.

"There are three options being reviewed," said Christiane Cote, spokeswoman for Fisheries and Oceans Canada Pacific Region.

"One is to leave the animal where it is, keeping an eye on it. The other is to move it to a facility like an aquarium. And the other one is to try to reunite it with its family."

Luna has been living alone in Nootka Sound, a remote inlet on the west coast of Vancouver Island, since becoming separated from his pod in July 2001.

The whale was initially shy of boats and humans, but in the past year has increasingly sought contact with boats and dock-users at Gold River.

Sorg said she and other environmental groups would fight any bid to place Luna in captivity.

"His mother is down in the States off the San Juan Islands right now and this is a lost kid," said Sorg. "And if you found a lost kid somewhere you'd want to return him to his mother. He's got to go home to his family."

Meanwhile, DFO said a second person has been fined $250 for petting Luna at the Gold River dock.

Travis Foreman, a Vancouver commercial fisherman, pleaded guilty to disturbing a marine mammal.

A Gold River woman was fined $100 for touching Luna in May.

"DFO has repeatedly warned boaters, kayakers, whale watchers and the public to stay away from this whale," said Cote.

Cote said increasing numbers of "social interactions" between Luna and humans "decreases the chances of the whale surviving in its natural habitat."

"[Luna] swims in and out of the bay and comes to the dock," said Cote. "So people have been going to the dock hoping to touch the animal and feed it. And that's what's causing a bit of a headache."