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Canada mulls family reunion for killer whale
By Allan Dowd


19th September 2003

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The fate of a lonely killer whale off Canada's Pacific coast is expected to be resolved next week when officials decide whether to accept a plan to move the animal back to U.S. waters.

Scientists are worried about the safety of the whale, officially named L98 but nicknamed Luna, amid reports that it has been injured by the boats and float planes it has been looking to for companionship.

An international scientific panel is working on final details of a plan for Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), which must approve any relocation attempt in co-ordination with U.S. officials.

DFO spokeswoman Lara Sloan said on Friday the department expects to decide by the end of next week whether to allow a forced family reunion, which would allow groups interested in organizing the move to work out logistics and funding.

The young male orca was discovered in July 2001, swimming alone in Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island near the community of Gold River, British Columbia.

Whale experts do not know if L98 was accidentally separated from, or was forced to leave, his family group, called L pod, which spends the summer and fall in the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Washington state and British Columbia.

The orcas that summer off the Pacific Coast normally swim in cohesive family groups, hunting salmon. Each pod is identified by the distinctive dialect of peeps and squawks the members use to communicate.

The panel of Canadian and U.S. scientists working on the relocation plan had recommended in May against forcing a family reunion. It was hoped at the time that Luna would swim back to the pod on his own.

Canada asked the panel to take another look at the situation after receiving reports the whale had been injured by collisions with float planes and by boaters upset by his interfering with watercraft.

Killer whales are social animals and experts have speculated L98 is seeking attention from humans because it is lonely.

If Luna is moved it will have to be done before the end of December when L pod normally leaves the area to spend the winter in deeper waters of the Pacific.

Scientists staged the first successful family reunion of wild orcas last year when an orphaned killer whale, found sick near Seattle, was nursed back to health and returned to her pod that summer in Canada, north of Vancouver Island.

Sloan said that, since officials are not sure if L pod will accept Luna, any relocation plan will have to consider what to do with the whale if it is left alone again, especially in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which has heavy marine traffic and would be more dangerous than Nootka Sound.