BC’s First Nations People & the Tragic, Mysterious Story of Luna the Whale
July 4, 2018
Picture a day spent on the coastal waters west of the British Columbia coastline navigating through the tiny islands of Nootka Sound. The shadows of the tall trees play tricks on your eyes as the rippling waves hold your keen ears at the ready. And then you see something that’s no illusion: a six foot tall dorsal fin breaking the surface of the water impossibly close to the rocks of the shore before turning in the direction of your boat. A killer whale, one of the proudest symbols of aboriginal strength and independence and the surest sign you’re in the heart of the pacific northwest. Is it a transient orca, a solitary hunter? Or a resident awaiting the arrival of the rest of the pod?
Or perhaps it’s something else entirely.
Back in 2006 this was the scene presented to a tugboat crew in Nootka Sound. Harsh spring storms were wreaking havoc on the area, which turned out to be an ominous sign of things to come. Luna the Whale was a curious orca that had been separated from his family for nearly five years at the time of the accident. He was consistently seen bumping up against boats in the area, which was a fair distance from the waters in which his family lived south of Vancouver Island. In the end, Luna’s curiosity got the best of him, and he was killed by the propeller of a tugboat. For the fishermen and locals of the area, it was a tragic accident. For the Mowachat-Muchalat First Nation, an accident, yes, but one with far more significance.
The Killer Whale is a powerful symbol of prosperity and long life for the aboriginal people of Canada’s west coast. Legends say that the souls of dead fishermen are reincarnated as orca whales, and in the curious case of Luna the Whale, never had there been anything so closely resembling proof. Just days before Luna first appeared in Nootka Sound, a long-term, well-respected chief of the Mowachat-Muchalat passed away – a chief that held strong to the orca legends, and one who fully expected to return after death as a killer whale.
Luna the Whale became quite well-known in the area, and considered by some to be a danger either to himself or the boat traffic in the area. Discussions began to remove the estranged orca to Puget Sound, but the Mowachat-Muchalat were worried this would eventually see Luna end up in an aquarium. The relocation efforts were blocked.
But an aquarium wasn’t the only concern of the Mowachat-Muchalat. Here was a lonesome orca living far from his family, and one who appeared just after the death of their beloved chief. Luna’s behaviour was extremely odd, unless you consider the possibility that a certain community leader and symbol of strength might just have been guiding the orca’s path back to the people he so cherished.
One of the wonderful things about aboriginal legends, particularly those involving orcas and thunderbirds, is that they’re open to interpretation. Science might not be able prove that Chief Ambrose was reincarnated as Luna the Whale. But either way, it’s said that he ultimately found rest alongside the soul of the creatures he loved.