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'Friendly' killer whale damaging boats

A "playful" killer whale who likes to frolic alongside fishermen has damaged three boats in separate incidents near Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Members of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation watch the killer whale Luna while paddling in canoe in Mooyah Bay located west of Gold River, Canada, in this recent photo.Richard Lam / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

A "playful" killer whale who likes to frolic alongside fishermen has damaged three boats in separate incidents in recent weeks.

Luna, described by fishermen as a friendly 5-year-old whale, has made frequent contact with people and boats in waters off Vancouver Island, about 125 miles north of the U.S. border, since he began frequenting the waters more than two years ago.

Now Canadian officials and an Indian group that believes the animal is the reincarnation of its late chief are working on a plan to protect both Luna and humans.  Officials hope to eventually reunite him with his pod of U.S. relatives.

Witnesses said Luna damaged the rudders of a sailboat and two gillnetters in Nootka Sound in recent weeks.  For hours after damaging the boats, Luna bumped and nudged the vessels, apparently seeking social contact, said Les Rombough, president of Canada's Area D Gillnetters Association.

One fishing boat was so damaged that its 75-year-old skipper had to rig a rope-and-pulley system to steer it while Luna continued to "harass and bang around the boat like a beach ball for five hours," Rombough told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for a story in Saturday's editions.

Still, Rombough said, "he's just being playful."

But as Luna grows, there is concern the encounters have gotten increasingly dangerous.  Rombough said fishermen would love to avoid Luna, but "you just can't do that anymore."

The Canadian Fisheries department and the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation — a band that believes Luna embodies the spirit of their dead chief — plan to unveil a formal "stewardship plan" for the whale this week, said Don Radford, acting director of the fisheries department's regional office.

The plan will include providing public information on how to avoid Luna and what to do if one encounters him, Radford said.

In the past, people have contributed to the problem by coming down to the dock to see the whale, who used to snoop around docks and boat propellers.  One person even tried to brush the whale's teeth.

Radford said the Indian band has already posted warning signs, restricted some dock access and distributed brochures about the whale.  He said the fisheries agency issues radio broadcast advisories about the whale over maritime frequencies.

In June, fisheries officials tried to capture Luna in an effort to reunite him with his pod as the small group of whales swam past the southern tip of Vancouver Island.

The plan was scuttled, however after canoes of Mowachaht-Muchalaht lured the whale away: They said they were uncomfortable with the plan.

Some said a stewardship should have been put into place soon after that incident.

Radford said his agency is committed to reuniting Luna with his pod and will resume negotiations with the Mowachaht-Muchalaht this fall.