The Lost Whale: The True Story of an Orca Named Luna

The Lost Whale: The True Story of an Orca Named Luna

4.5 42
by Michael Parfit, Suzanne Chisholm

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The heartbreaking and true story of a lonely orca named Luna who befriended humans in Nootka Sound, off the coast of Vancouver Island by Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm.

One summer in Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, a young killer whale called Luna got separated from his pod. Like humans, orcas are highly social and


The heartbreaking and true story of a lonely orca named Luna who befriended humans in Nootka Sound, off the coast of Vancouver Island by Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm.

One summer in Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, a young killer whale called Luna got separated from his pod. Like humans, orcas are highly social and depend on their families, but Luna found himself desperately alone. So he tried to make contact with people. He begged for attention at boats and docks. He looked soulfully into people's eyes. He wanted to have his tongue rubbed. When someone whistled at him, he squeaked and whistled back. People fell in love with him, but the government decided that being friendly with Luna was bad for him, and tried to keep him away from humans. Policemen arrested people for rubbing Luna's nose. Fines were levied. Undaunted, Luna refused to give up his search for connection and people went out to meet him, like smugglers carrying friendship through the dark. But does friendship work between species? People who loved Luna couldn't agree on how to help him. Conflict came to Nootka Sound. The government built a huge net. The First Nations' members brought out their canoes. Nothing went as planned, and the ensuing events caught everyone by surprise and challenged the very nature of that special and mysterious bond we humans call friendship. The Lost Whale celebrates the life of a smart, friendly, determined, transcendent being from the sea who appeared among us like a promise out of the blue: that the greatest secrets in life are still to be discovered.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
“My mind thinks in pictures long before it gets around to words,” explains National Geographic writer and filmmaker Parfit. Like the documentary film version of the story (The Whale, released in 2011), the plot is a simple one: an orca whale, Luna, separated from his pod at a young age, turns to humans for social connection. After warning people not to interact too much with Luna, lest the creature become tame, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) decided to try and reunite him with his pod. Things get complicated, and the reader, like Parfit and his wife, Chisholm, can’t help but “get swept up in its turbulence.” With tourists, fishermen, scientists, First Nations groups, and the DFO all squabbling, it’s easy to get lost in the abundance of characters, and Parfit sometimes lapses into overly florid prose (despite the authorial double billing, the book is written in the first person from Parfit’s perspective). In addition, the frequent chapter breaks seem designed to enhance the drama, unnecessarily so. Still, Luna’s story brings a thorny dilemma to the table—what should humanity’s role toward nature be?—and the book does a surprisingly good job of showing the range of emotions behind that question. Agent: Kris Dahl, ICM. (June)
From the Publisher

“I loved The Lost Whale. It's an important book, but also funny and moving and unforgettable.” —Ric O'Barry, star of the Academy Award winning film The Cove and author of Behind the Dolphin Smile

“I first fell in love with Luna when I saw The Whale in 2011, and the bond is even stronger after reading The Lost Whale, the compelling story-behind-the-story of the beautifully filmed documentary. And though I consider Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm to be friends and colleagues, I feel no conflict of interest in stating they are journalists, filmmakers, and now authors of the highest order. In short, they are master storytellers. Let them tell you the beguiling story of Luna, the lost whale. You will never forget it as long as you live. I guarantee it.” —David Kirby, author of Death at SeaWorld and Animal Factory

The Lost Whale is an epic story that has it all - drama, controversy, humor, emotion, humans you care about, and an orca named Luna you will never forget. This wonderful book clearly shows how empathy and compassion easily cross species lines. It reminds us that we all need someone we can lean on. Read this book and share Luna's story as widely as possible. It is that special and important.” —Marc Bekoff, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals and editor of Ignoring Nature No More

“The story of Luna is about mystery, empathy, and friendship, and The Lost Whale is as engrossing as a novel. You have to read it. It's an unforgettable story.” —Ken Balcomb, Chief Scientist, Center for Whale Research

The Lost Whale recounts an incredible, complex and heart-wrenching story, a drama of science, ethics, politics and emotion from which no reader can remain impassive. Ultimately, the question at the heart of The Lost Whale explores the nature of empathy. That question, and so many others raised by this book, will stay with me for a long time. This book is a fitting tribute to the whale called Luna, and to all the people who cared so deeply for his well-being.” —Eva Saulitis, author of Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss in the Realm of Vanishing Orcas

“Luna's story brings a thorny dilemma to the table--what should humanity's role toward nature be?--and the book does a surprisingly good job of showing the range of emotions behind that question.” —Publishers Weekly

“A tender, nail-biting account of an orca's fate.” —Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Six years in the life of a young killer whale that lost contact with his family yet managed to survive on his own. Parfit and Chisholm (co-authors: Blame It on the Weather: Amazing Weather Facts, 2002) chronicle the life of Luna, an orca first sighted swimming with his mother in 1999. Unusually, the pair appeared to be alone, with no other whales in sight. In 2002, Luna showed up alone in the coastal waters on the southern tip of Vancouver and began swimming around the docks and following boats; he appeared to be attempting to befriend humans. The authors describe how Luna evoked an empathetic response due to his obvious loneliness and hunger for social contact. He would also solicit physical contact, gesturing with his flippers and looking people in the eye. He also played with boats, sometimes carefully lifting and pushing them. Conservationists had hoped that his pod would return so that he could be reunited with them, but the pod did not come back. Scientists and government authorities tried to enforce laws prohibiting people from interfering with orcas, officially an endangered species. Luna was nonthreatening, gentle and responsive to verbal cues to stop an activity, but they feared that he would become too attached to humans. In 2004, on assignment from Smithsonian magazine, the authors first met Luna. They were reporting on a conference where his fate was being hotly debated: Would he be allowed to remain free in hopes that he could reconnect with his pod, or should he be sent to an aquarium? In 2007, the authors produced the award-winning documentary Saving Luna. A tender, nail-biting account of an orca's fate as the Canadian Fisheries and Oceans Department considered trapping and sending him to captivity.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.92(w) x 8.34(h) x 1.17(d)

Read an Excerpt



April 2004

It was a clean but restless day, with hard light on the water and an edge in the north wind, the kind of day in which the sky doesn’t tell you much except not to settle in.

It was the off-season in the islands along the border between the United States and Canada on the west coast of North America, in one of the few places where the border doesn’t go in a straight line. The marina at the Rosario Resort and Spa on Orcas Island, about a hundred air miles north of Seattle, was mostly quiet, except for a few uneasy sailboats with masts and lines clattering like empty flagpoles.

The boat ride from the customs dock had taken about half an hour in lumpy water with a cold wind. All we had was an open twenty-foot boat with an outboard motor and a leaky canvas top, and there had been forty-five minutes of splash and spray even before we got to the customs dock, crossing from our island home in Canada. So Suzanne and I tied up with relief and walked up the dock toward the hotel and into the life of a whale.

We were joining a group of people whose interest or profession was the management of marine mammals. They gathered in a big conference room on rows of good padded chairs, not the folding metal kind. The long table at the front had two tablecloths and a short skirt on top of a long one that reached the ground so you couldn’t see people in the panel of speakers wiggle their feet when they were exasperated at what their neighbors were saying. It was quiet, except for what you were supposed to hear.

I sat in one of the front rows. Suzanne was somewhere farther back. We sat with our small video cameras on tripods next to us. We were writing an article for Smithsonian magazine, not making a movie, but we used cameras for backup for our imperfect notes and because our editors wanted evidence, and cameras are good at evidence.

The room was full of the things that humans do: voices murmuring, chairs moving, clothes rustling, people crossing their legs and leaning forward, leaning back. We were so many and so close that we shared the air as intimately as our voices. We became a massed breathing thing packed into a room, like a school of herring leaning into the tide.

And the voices all turned one way, too. All spoke of one living being who was not there, as if all of us were whispering together about a movie star who should have treatment, or a candidate who needed advice, or a romantic thief who should be caught, or a soul to be saved with our wisdom. The missing subject of all this talk was a killer whale, an orca—a very young one.

Suzanne and I had seen photos in newspapers of a small orca’s head poking up beside a dock, with kids leaning over the side to touch his nose, or of him raising his head to look into boats full of delighted people. These shots illustrated bits of text about how the young orca, whom people called “Luna,” had become separated from his pod and turned up all alone in a distant fjord, where he had started to befriend humans. The most recent stories reported that the Canadian government was planning to solve this problem by catching the little whale and moving him.

There was a shot from one newspaper in which Luna was practically touching noses with a black dog on a boat. There were photos of hands reaching out, and the whale lifting himself partly out of the water to touch them. There were photos of people rubbing the whale’s tongue. The images had been printed all over the world. We had those pictures clipped and in our files, but we didn’t need to bring them with us, because everyone else here had the same shots, stuffed in their briefcases or seared into their minds.

*   *   *

A man named Marc Pakenham sat at the table and spoke. He had a large and flexible face sculptured with broad strokes. His expression seemed to be burdened by a thoughtful melancholy.

“This whale’s character has been maligned a little bit over the last few years,” he said.

Not knowing the story, we didn’t know what he was talking about. But everybody else seemed to understand.

“In my experience,” he went on, “and that of the other people who have worked with him—and I know Kari and Erin and a few other people have had occasions where we’ve been closer to Luna than we wanted to be—I don’t think anyone can fail to be moved by the fact that this is a good whale.”

If we’d been doing an interview with Marc, we could have asked him why, exactly, he felt the need to defend the moral character of this whale. Who was attacking it? But we said nothing. Marc continued his defense.

“If there is such a thing as a bad whale,” he said, “this is not a bad whale.”

Next to Marc at the long table sat Kari Koski, one of the women he had been talking about, who had spent a few weeks working with Marc’s organization in Luna’s neighborhood. She was almost the opposite of Marc. He seemed weighed down with some kind of wry sorrow, but she was not. She was radiant without seeming naïve, like a person who knows the darkness but shines anyway because shining feels better. She spoke of Luna as if he were a child in her family, as if she could pour her love for him into the room, knowing she had enough to flood us all with it.

“We’ve got a little whale that’s coming up to the boat or the dock,” she said, “and he’s looking you in the eye, and he’s squeaking at you, and it’s what everybody comes out on a whale-watching trip hoping and wishing to get, it’s a personal communication and interaction with a whale.”

She glanced around the room with an affectionate, encompassing look.

“And I think we’re up against a lot,” she said, “when we’re asking people to put their human emotions aside.”

*   *   *

The meeting was full of detailed information that made only partial sense to us. The whale was a member of a group of whales called L Pod, part of a community of just over eighty, known as the Southern Residents, that spent about six months of the year in the waters near the southern end of Vancouver Island. The whales were officially endangered and were much beloved by the millions of people who lived near them.

The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) had announced that it was going to catch the little whale in the remote fjord where he had been for two and a half years and move him closer to the pod to which he belonged. There were several options, but the most probable involved catching him by subterfuge or force, putting him in a net pen, testing him for several days, bolting a satellite tagging device to his dorsal fin, lifting him into a truck, driving him about two hundred miles, and putting him back in the water near the Vancouver Island city of Victoria.

There was no disagreement in the room, but it was clear that there had been. Everyone went to great lengths to praise everyone else for at last working together to solve the problem. Everyone smiled at one another and shook hands. The smiles looked sincere.

The woman who was in charge of Luna was small and had dark hair. Her title was taller than she was. She was the marine mammal coordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Luna was in her territory and portfolio.

Her name was Marilyn Joyce. She did not seem nervous in front of the assembly, but she did not seem fully at ease, either. She read from a statement, looking down and up with that hint of wariness and self-conscious precision that tells you that this person thinks she had better be careful what she says.

“We really did hope that Luna could just go on his way without us interfering with him,” Marilyn said, with a kind of half-apologetic glance up at the audience, in which I read both embarrassment and something that seemed a little harder.

“Who knows what he has on his mind,” Marilyn continued. “But anyway, we’re making decisions for him now.”

*   *   *

We were on Orcas Island for two days. The next day, the wind had changed direction and picked up, and it seemed colder now. Late in the day, we headed back to our chilly boat and the rough journey home across the shipping lanes, a windblown strait, and the border. So we thought mostly about rough water and the approaching darkness. But we could not help thinking about the whale known as Luna.

It was like starting to read a five-book series of novels on the third book. Who were these people and what was going on? What was this unexpected life from the alien world of the sea that for some reason sought the company of humans? Why was that wrong? And what were those human emotions that people had to put aside?

We moved out of sheltered water near a wooded lump of rock called Battleship Island. We went through a tidal rip where the wind fought the current. The rip tossed us around, and we bounced out of the chop into the longer waves of the strait, dusk rising like fog. We knew that sometimes there were lost logs out there, and our boat was small and fragile. We both stared hard at the thrashing water just ahead. We couldn’t afford to look up into the distance. But if we looked backward into the past, the early history of the little whale was right there, in the waters near Battleship Island.


Copyright © 2013 by Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm

Meet the Author

MICHAEL PARFIT is a British Columbia-based writer, journalist and filmmaker. With his wife, Suzanne Chisholm, Michael produced and directed more than twenty stories for the National Geographic Channel. He lives in Sidney, British Columbia, Canada.

SUZANNE CHISHOLM has produced and filmed documentaries and has done more than a dozen pieces for the National Geographic Today Show. She also lives in Sidney, British Columbia, Canada.

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The Lost Whale: The True Story of an Orca Named Luna 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 42 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am going to report all of these comments! Go on the warriors website! There are forums there where you can rp all you want without getting in the way of people who would like to read!
CarrieCA More than 1 year ago
My heart went out to Luna. The fact the he did not have his whale family. I hurt for him. But the towns people came together and tookcare of him . Love to them all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Please? I am Silversorrow.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is WAY to inactive and small. So join HawkClan at 'misc' result two. P.S. you shouldn't advertise a stupid clan on other clans territory! You did it! Admit it! To: any cats who want to be deputy: there is EchoClan at 'topo' first result. I am in need of a deputy and medicine cat as well as warriors and kits. Thank you!
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Me and lilypelt used to be in this clan. But we made our own at duspelt res2 and would like to be allies with pantherclan moonstar do you accept our offer?
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I have returned
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Hot dogs an buns
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I am FireFlower. I am an orange female cat, with brown eyes. I have a seventh danger sencing instinct. I have good warrior skills, but I can also preform med cat duties as needed. I am usually very calm and mild, but when prevolked become very aggresive. I need a mate, anyone interested let me know.
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A pair of bright green eyes watched from above. Not cat eyes. Twoleg eyes...?
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