IMAGE: ORPHANED ORCA
Richard Lam  /  AP file
Luna, the orphaned killer whale feared killed by a tug, is seen here on June 24, 2004, with members of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation off Canada's Vancouver Island.
updated 3/10/2006 4:00:29 PM ET 2006-03-10T21:00:29

It appears Luna the orphaned orca has died after being struck by a tugboat on the west coast of Vancouver Island, officials said Friday.

Canada's fisheries department said the boat was idling to escape rough weather in Nootka Sound when it collided with the killer whale. A department official said it was an accident and the boat's skipper is distressed over the incident.

Luna arrived in the sound in 2001 after becoming separated from his pod.

Although the whale was friendly, he became a nuisance to marine traffic in the area and an attempt was made in 2004 to reunite him with his pod in the Juan de Fuca Strait off Vancouver. But the effort was abandoned after he was lured away from a net pen by First Nations canoes.

The Mowachaht-Muchalaht believe Luna embodies the spirit of their dead chief, Chief Ambrose Maquinna, who had said he would return as a killer whale.

Three days after Maquinna's death in 2001, the whale showed up in the sound.

Under a stewardship agreement with the Canadian government, the Mowachaht-Muchalaht people were helping to educate boaters and trying to reduce risky encounters, seeing as how Luna enjoyed bumping up against boats.

Some vessels were damaged, and a few boaters even threatened to dynamite, harpoon or shoot Luna.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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