UPDATE, Oct. 15, 2011
“The Whale” can now be seen at Lynwood
Theatre on Bainbridge Island and will be screened next weekend
at Clyde Theatre
on Whidbey Island, the latter a benefit for Orca Network.
“The Whale,” a long-awaited movie about a young Puget Sound orca
named Luna, opened yesterday in Seattle and Tacoma before being
released elsewhere in the country. Go to scheduled screenings.
It’s a beautiful film, both for its stunning photography and for
its careful portrayal of the characters and situations taking place
in Nootka Sound, near the northern end of Vancouver Island.
Somehow, the 2-year-old killer whale became separated from his
family and began living a solitary life, seeking attention from
It was not easy to balance the varying viewpoints. Believe me, I
know because I struggled with these issues while covering the same
story for the Kitsap Sun — from the time Luna first arrived in
Nootka Sound until the day he died there. I served as the only pool
reporter for U.S. print media during an unsuccessful attempt to
capture Luna and return him to his family. But I’ve talked about
this before. See Water Ways entries from
July 5 of this year and
Aug. 6 of last year, which includes links to my stories.
I was pleasantly surprised when I watched “The Whale” yesterday
to learn that filmmakers Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm did
not attempt to create heroes and villains in this story. They
played it straight, balancing the various opinions regarding how
Luna should be managed, if that was even possible.
An unusual angle to the story was the spiritual beliefs of the
Mowachaht-Muchalaht band of First Nations people, who held the view
that Luna was the embodied spirit of their late chief who had died
the week before Luna arrived in Nootka Sound.
Marine mammal biologist Toni Frohoff says in the film that
things usually end badly for marine mammals who become habituated
to humans. But, with no family around, Luna was the one who
initiated contact. Most people who met Luna were convinced that he
needed attention. Some chose to follow official orders and ignore
him; others petted and played with him.
Were these interactions for the gratification of the people who
wanted to touch a whale? Did they help this lonely orca? Or was
there some mutual benefit from interspecies relations? That is the
question left dangling.
Kari Koski of SoundWatch, based in the San Juan Islands,
traveled to Nootka Sound to discourage people from interacting with
Luna. As a “steward,” she has had far more success with people
around killer whales in Puget Sound, where the orca families are
large; they stay together; and they don’t usually seek human
“All we were doing,” Kari says in the film, “was interacting
with him in order to prevent more interactions.”
In Mike’s words, as narrated by Ryan Reynolds:
“As the stewards saw Luna in more of these situations, they came
into conflict with themselves. They were trying to rebuild the wall
that Luna had broken, but they loved him when he came through
More than a
year after the rescue attempt failed, Mike began to interact
with Luna. This he admits, though his actions were contrary to
official orders from the Canadian government. He had followed the
rules while trying unsuccessfully to change those policies. Mike
says he adopted a goal of leading Luna away from dangerous
situations, including a log dump where the young whale could be hit
and killed by a falling log.
But Luna’s death came anyway, four years after his arrival, when
he was sucked into the propellor of a powerful tugboat.
Seattle filmmaker Michael Harris, known for his wildlife films
in Puget Sound, says he will not watch “The Whale” and discourages
other people from doing so. His reasons are varied, but he worries
that the film will give people the idea that it is OK to interact
with killer whales, something that increases the risk of their
being injured or killed.
“From what we’ve seen, the narrative says all the right things
about loving whales and protecting them, but the images say
otherwise,” Michael told me in an e-mail. “We believe it
essentially says that it’s cool for humans to play with wild
I have not heard this complaint from others, but I would welcome
comments from people who have such concerns.
Michael points out that the story was different for Springer, a
young female orca from the Northern Resident community of Canada
who was found hanging out in the ferry lane between Vashon Island
and West Seattle. It was at the same time that Luna was up north in
Interaction with Springer was discouraged, and U.S. officials
moved quickly to capture her and take her back to her family near
the north end of Vancouver Island. This year, marks the 10th
anniversary of Springer’s reunion with her family, and Springer
appears to be doing great, according to observers.
Springer’s successful reunion is not mentioned in the movie “The
Whale,” but the management of her plight must be remembered as a
success story. Luna’s story, on the other hand, has no happy
ending, but it does help us understand the ways of killer whales,
particularly those left alone for a long time. I hope “The Whale”
will help us humans find better ways to handle things next
For more info, go to “The Whale” website.
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