|VANCOUVER, British Columbia - A June family reunion is being eyed for a lonely killer whale that has become a public nuisance on Canada\'s Pacific coast, Canadian and U.S. officials said yesterday.|
The one-ton whale, nicknamed Luna, will be captured and transported to the southern tip of Vancouver Island where experts hope he will link up with his family pod when it returns to the border region this summer.
Luna has been swimming alone in an isolated bay on western Vancouver Island since 2001, and experts are worried about a repeat of last summer\'s incidents when he had run-ins with boats in an apparent search for companionship.
\"We all very much hope that he rejoins his pod,\" said Marylin Joyce of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which is co-ordinating the move with the U.S. government and two private groups.
Orcas, or killer whales, normally spend their entire lives with other members of their pod, and scientists do not know if Luna, whose official designation is L98, became lost or was kicked out of the family unit.
The countries agreed late last year to move Luna, but had to wait until L-Pod returned to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where it spends the summer swimming in both U.S. and Canadian waters.
Once L-Pod has returned, whale experts plan to capture Luna, check his health, and transport him to a holding pen. It is hoped he will recognize the sounds of the other whales and want to join them.
Officials had thought of using a holding pen in Washington state, but the legal difficulties of transporting a whale across the border made it simpler to use a site on the Canadian side of the strait.
\"Once a whale goes over a border, then it seems to become neither government\'s responsibility,\" said Vancouver Aquarium director John Nightingale.
Two years ago, experts reunited Springer, a sick and orphaned juvenile orca found in Puget Sound near Seattle, with her family pod, which summers in Canadian waters off northern Vancouver Island.
Unlike Springer, Luna is healthy, but officials want to move him before he becomes a threat to public safety in Nootka Sound where he is now living.
The orca population off southern Vancouver Island has dropped to near-endangered levels, and if Luna remains a wild whale Joyce said she will consider the move a success, even if he does not rejoin his pod.
Officials acknowledge they may have to take additional steps, including putting Luna in captivity, if he continues to seek the attention of boats at his new location.
The move is expected to cost at least $420,000, and while the U.S. and Canadian governments have contributed about $175,600, the rest will have to be raised from private sources.
Story by Allan Dowd
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE