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Canadian official accused of beating an orca whale

By Tracy Vedder

KOMO 4 News [ABC, Seattle-Tacoma]

15th July 2003

VICTORIA, B.C. - There are new allegations that a
government worker from Canada was caught beating
an orphaned orca whale.

KOMO 4 News has learned that Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans is launching an investigation. The incident in Nootka Sound off Vancouver Island increases pressure to move Luna back home to Puget Sound.

Videotape shot last summer shows Luna, an orphaned killer whale, cavorting in Nootka Sound off Vancouver Island. The juvenile orca is clearly comfortable around boats and humans.

But that comfort level has become dangerous for the young orca. Now, as many as 200 people a day show up to pet and play and sometimes abuse the killer whale.

"Luna's being fed chocolate chip cookies, having beer poured down its throat," says Michael Harris with Orca Conservancy. "They're out there teaching him tricks and hand signals like Shamu."

In the most recent incident, a contract worker for Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans -- the same agency that's supposed to protect marine mammals -- allegedly beat Luna. Grant Howatt of Nootka Aviation talked to the worker, who allegedly admitted he'd hit Luna.

"When Luna got up close he was smacking it with a board to get it away from his boat," says Howatt.

Canada's DFO is bringing in an investigator from Victoria. That person will determine if charges should be filed against the worker.

But it's this type of incident that spotlights the growing problem: Orphaned orcas and humans aren't a healthy mix.

"Anytime you have a wild animal," adds Harris, "particularly a wild killer whale interacting with human beings, you're asking for trouble."

Last year it was Springer, the orphaned orca in Puget Sound, so starved for attention she adopted a ferry and wouldn't leave boats alone. Springer successfully reunited with her Canadian orca family.

Orca advocates say it's time to give Luna the same chance and bring him home to Puget Sound.

Canada says at this point it is not considering any type of reunion for Luna. Instead the government says it's focusing on keeping people away from the whale.