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Canada's whale of a dilemma

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It is said that your right to swing your arm ends where your arm meets someone else's nose. And, I might add, your right to believe your late relative has been reincarnated as a killer whale ends where you prevent that whale from being returned to his pod.

Science and animal welfare concerns are clashing with political correctness off the coast of British Columbia, where an orca named Luna is making the news. Rubbing up against boats, alternately victimized and revered, he is stuck and hapless as humans try to help - provided it doesn't offend anyone.

Luna, now five, is a Southern Resident killer whale (an endangered species) who, in July of 2001, showed up in Nootka Sound, off Vancouver Island. The youngster had lost contact with his pod, or family unit, and wandered until he found a food source. Killer whales normally stay with their pod their whole life. Marine biologists theorize that he was swimming with an uncle who died.

Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) initially decided to leave Luna be, hoping he would find his way back. He didn't. He traveled further inland toward Gold River, where he became famous. By the summer of 2003, tourists were traveling to Gold River to see him, touch him, and sadly, to abuse him. Some poked and prodded, others poured beer down his blowhole.

He's a big boy now - nearly 3,000 pounds - and some have wised up that Luna should be helped back to his pod, which, according to experts, is where he will thrive. The first (and so far only) attempt to reunite a killer whale with its pod was the case of Springer, in 2002. That relocation was successful and also took place off the coast of British Columbia. But Springer had not been away as long as Luna. Time is of the essence. Last fall, the decision was made to relocate Luna. The move was delayed until spring 2004, when Luna's pod was expected nearby.

Meanwhile, the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nations people, a native Canadian tribe, raised concerns about moving Luna, whom they call Tsuux-iit. Their late chief had said he would return in the form of a whale. Shortly after his death, Luna appeared.

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