The Whale: Raising Awareness And Questions
The Whale, narrated by Ryan Reynolds, is an emotional and provocative look at the life of Luna, a solitary and sociable orca who was off the coast of British Columbia. Separated from his family at a young age and discovered in Nootka Sound on the northern west coast of Vancouver Island in July 2001, Luna was killed by a tugboat in March 2006. Luna was first identified in September1999, near the San Juan Islands of Washington, as a newborn with his mother and part of the Southern Resident orca community.
WDCS followed the saga of Luna for the course of his troubled life, and consistently supported efforts to reunite him with his family pod as interaction between him and the public escalated into a dangerous and seemingly unmanageable situation. Luna craved the familial bonds he would have shared with his pod. As a result,Luna reached out to humans to satisfy his social needs. Humans, however, are a poor substitute for the life he should have had.
The film adeptly exposes the tragic inability of all stakeholders in Luna’s welfare to come to a solution for his protection. Luna, or L-98, was a member of the Southern Resident population of orcas, which is threatened with extinction, and were listed as ‘Endangered’ under the US Endangered Species Act in 2005. The loss of Luna was a tragic and sad result of our collective inability to sort out the politics and differences in strategies that left Luna unprotected and in the middle of opposing viewpoints on the best course of action to reunite him with his natal pod. Even after the successful reintroduction and integration of Springer, a northern resident orca also separated from her family, in 2002 proved successful - Canadian and US agencies and other stakeholders, including the First Nations, were unable to find a solution for Luna. Direct reintroduction of Luna to his pod was the most promising path to his survival, and the only way to fulfill his starved social needs and add one more productive male to the struggling Southern Resident population.
The history of ‘friendly’, solitary whales and dolphins is often a sad one. Although a complex issue, these individuals are highly vulnerable and, once habituated, lose their natural behaviors and may start to actively seek interactions. Many end up wounded and sometimes even dead as a result of their interactions with people. Generally, the more human interactions that occur with the animal, the bigger the problems tend to get,and the less likely the animal is to survive.
While well intentioned, WDCS advises people to stay away from solitary sociable whales and dolphins if possible. If there is a good shore-based viewing site then it may be possible to watch the animals from the shore (which is unlikely to harm the animal or encourage further human interactions).
The film does show what remarkable and intelligent animals orcas are and carries a strong anti-captivity message which WDCS applauds. And while it does not explore all the reasons for the different approaches advocated for Luna’s care, we certainly recommend seeing this important film.