TORONTO – Indians in dugout canoes led a killer whale out to sea off western Canada on Wednesday, trying to thwart scientists' attempts to capture the orca considered by the tribe to be a reincarnated chief.
Luna, now 5 years old, became fond of folks in Gold River, a former mill town of 1,400 people on Vancouver Island, B.C., some 125 miles north of the U.S. border.
People often came down to the dock to see the lonely whale, who used to snoop around boat propellers and docks. One person even tried to brush the whale's teeth.
This month, Luna surfaced in the path of a landing float plane. Scientists feared the whale would injure himself or people and on Wednesday planned to begin a plan to reunite Luna with his pod.
But the whale was instead about 12 miles away from the pen where he was supposed to spend the next week.
"We hope to divert Luna away from capture," said Mike Maquinna, chief of the Mowachaht First Nation (search).
Maquinna said band members believe Luna embodies the spirit of his late father.
Videotape showed Luna swimming alongside the Indian paddlers, spinning over onto his back while some of the Indians patted his skin, rubbed his teeth and scratched his belly with hands and paddles.
The behavior Luna exhibited with the paddlers is exactly the kind of behavior that led officials with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans to try to get him out of Nootka Sound.
Officials had planned to use a boat that Luna is particularly fond of to lead him into a net pen, where he would undergo medical tests.
If healthy, he would be coaxed into a sling, crane-lifted into a container, placed on the back of a transport truck and then driven about 200 miles south to a bay near Victoria.
Once there, the plan called for him to be held in another net pen until his pod swims by. He then would be released with the hope he would set out to meet his family.