The Lost Ones

Killer whales live together in pods, they help each other, play together and hunt as a group. But every now and then one of them (usually a young animal) will somehow lose track of its pod and get lost. As orcas travel many miles a day, getting lost can be deadly for a juvenile if it does not find its way back to the other members of the group. Over the last couple of years several cases of a young orca getting lost have been recorded and have become famous by the turn their stories took after that. Probably the most famous of them all was the small bull named “Luna”.

Born in 1999 to Splash (L67) in the L-pod of Southern Resident orcas Luna was known as L98. His name was given to him after a newspaper held a naming contest for the newborn orca and as it was unknown if L98 was either male or female the name “Luna” was picked as winner. Luna was already the “exploring one” at a young age he was seen leaving the side of his mother to socialize with another pod for a few days and returning to Splash after that. It is believed that the other pod had one female who gave birth to a stillborn, and Luna went to her to feed on the milk she was producing despite of her lost child. In the summer of 2001 Luna showed up in Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island alone. No one knew why the young male was on his own and there was no sign of the rest of his pod. Five other orcas of Luna’s pod disappeared in the winter before and speculation was that maybe the young bull had witnessed a horrible event that led to the death of these members of his family.

It must have been a confusing world for the young orca as he had to try and survive on his own without the knowledge of how to do so being passed on to him by the older members of his pod. One can only guess how afraid this “lost boy” must have been while facing a world full of danger and, maybe even worse… humans! At first Luna stayed well away from the two legged, clothed beings and their noisy floating crafts. But after a while loneliness and maybe even curiosity got the bigger part of the orca and he would get closer and closer to people. Luna started to enjoy the company of people that gave him attention and was soon swimming towards boats to greet the beings on it that were waving at him and talked to him in a language unknown to him. The people of Nootka Sound and others fell in love with this black and white animal that seemed to want to play with them.

With this also came danger of course. Not everyone was happy with a playful killer whale roaming the waters of Vancouver Island and it didn’t take long before some started complaining and even talked about having Luna killed. People started fighting over what should be the faith of the young bull while Luna continued to try and get the attention of his new found friends. There were several ideas going around on what was best for Luna and the 3 most obvious solutions were:

1. Have him killed.
2. Catch him and take him to a marine park.
3. Let nature take its course.

The people of Nootka Sound could not have been more divided in their thoughts on these options. Some fishermen wanted Luna shot, the natives wanted him to stay free while a marine park showed great interest in the orca. No one (of course) asked Luna as he would not be able to understand and answer but it does make you wonder what his answer would have been if he could. I highly doubt being shot or captured would be his pick but then being away from his own kind might have felt just as bad.

By now people weren’t allowed to “play” with Luna anymore. If someone was getting to close to him or was touching him they would be fined for disturbing the young bull orca. Of course those who would run into Luna could not resist. Having such an experience with a wild killer whale would make anyone break the rules and so people would often risk to be fined just to be around him.

At some point it was decided that Luna was indeed to be captured and relocated. The Natives would not have any of it and decided to fight for the young orca. While boats tried to lure Luna into a floating sea pen, the natives took to the water in their canoes and started singing and drawing the attention of the juvenile killer whale. Curious as Luna was he switched from the motorized boats to follow the canoes. This plan seemed to work but before they could bring the animal far enough the other boats came and lured Luna back again. This “game” went on for some time until it became clear that it was too dangerous to continue. Then on March 10, 2006 the whole discussion stopped as the message came that Luna was dead. The young orca had swum up to a tugboat and got sucked into the propeller. It is believed that he was dead instantly. All parties involved were shocked and sad by the news that the orca they had been fighting over was killed.

Around the same time that Luna showed up in Nootka Sound another young killer whale was seen alone in Puget Sound, Washington. This juvenile female was identified as being A73 also known as “Springer”. Just as with Luna this orca sparked a discussion on what her fate should be. And like Luna, Springer would also seek the companionship of humans. She was often spotted near boats and people loved seeing this adorable killer whale up close.

It was decided that Springer would be caught and relocated to the waters of Johnstone Strait in Vancouver. To do so they needed a team of people that could capture the orca safely and a sea pen in which they could observe her and get her back to full heath. On June 13, 2002 she was captured and brought to a seapen in Manchester, Washington to be cared for. A month later she was found healthy enough to return to her native waters and on July 13 she was brought to British Columbia by catamaran. For that day she was put into another pen filled with wild salmon which she gratefully caught and ate. She also was able to communicate with other killer whales that passed by and it became clear she was ready for release.

On July 14 Springer was set free and the first thing this little female wanted to do after spending so long without her own kind was to be with other orcas. She spotted a pod traveling by and headed for them like a child on presents on Christmas morning. The sudden appearance of the juvenile however, was a bit too much for the pod and instead of showing interest or attention for this stranger they panicked and let her on her own once again. Now Springer went back to the creatures that did accept her and had given her attention before, humans. Boats that came buy were “harassed” and soon people were told to stay away from the orca to leave room for her to get back with her own species. Springer started “hanging out” with A4 and A5 pod, a group of killer whales that were related to her. She was accepted and taken care of by a female called “Nodales” (A51) for a while who would make sure Springer would stay away from the humans. Nahwitti (A56) took over from Nodales together with her mother Yakat (A11).

Years later in 2013 Springer was spotted with a calf of her own. She had given birth to “Spirit” in the winter of 2012 - 2013 and had become a caring mother. The rehabilitation program had been a great success for this once lost killer whale.

On June 23, 2010 an orca was spotted swimming close to the coast of Holland. Since Dutch waters are not known for having killer whales in them it quickly became obvious this animal was lost. A team was put together to have her captured and brought to the Dolfinarium in Harderwijk. This marine park had orcas in the past performing in their shows and was the only location an animal of this size could be held. The young female killer whale was called “Morgan” which is Celtic for “lives by the sea”. When Morgan was found she was in bad shape and probably had not eaten for days. It was assumed she came from a pod of orcas that remain in Scottish waters.

The original plan was to get Morgan back to health to rerelease her back in the wild as soon as they had found her pod. But then a statement was released that it would not be in the best interest for her to have her put back into the wild. The scientists of the Dolfinarium said it would most like kill Morgan and therefor they spoke out against the rerelease of the orca. Other experts like marine biologist Ingrid Visser pointed out that Morgan was a perfect candidate to be reunited with her pod. The Dutch marine park responded by saying it would probably be impossible to find the pod she belonged to. But before being able to make serious attempts of finding her family the people who wanted to see Morgan back in the North Sea received more bad news. The scientist who were taking care of Morgan in the marine park claimed the young female killer whale was deaf. They stated that even if her family was found it would be impossible for her to survive in the wild and so it would be better to have her in the care of human hands.

A long period of discussions and lawsuits followed and even Dutch politics were used to help decide the future of the orca who was awaiting her faith in a small tank in Harderwijk. In July 2011 the marine park asked for a permit to have Morgan transported to the island of Tenerife to have her in captivity. That same month this was granted and on November 29 Morgan was shipped to the Spanish island. Since then several organizations have been trying to have the permit be declared illegal but up till now this has been without success. Morgan still remains at Loro Parque where she has been spotted while being attacked by the other killer whales that remain at the marine park.

Three young orcas who got lost all have had a different ending to their stories.