Stranded Whale at Xmas

“Luna” glitters in the Christmas lights and looks out from Morton Park on to English Bay. It’s hard not to like him at this festive season, but he comes to Vancouver with a sad history.

There are only 76 whales left for Luna to see, fewer than ever before. We all know that more Chinook and more ‘whale space’ could reverse the pending extinction, but Luna doesn’t show his sadness.

Instead, he lies on his belly, head in the sky, and flukes in the air. He looks just like he’s supposed to, maybe. In fact, the last time anyone saw that pose was in SeaWorld. Whales do it as a dazzling show-end stunt for large crowds. It’s an absolutely dramatic circus pose, but it’s become the normal look for media orca now.

Orcas, SeaWorld, San Diego

Unfortunately, Luna is a lit-up circus animal looking out at his nearly extinct species.

He seems to forget the recent deaths of Chester, the ‘false killer whale’, at the Vancouver Aquarium (November 24, 2017). Daisy, the harbour porpoise, died there in June. Three other whales—two belugas—died there since August 2016.

It’s been an especially terrible year for orcas. The famous Tilikum—sire and grandsire of more than half the orca population in SeaWorld captivity, killed three people, and starred in the film ‘Blackfish” (2013)—died in SeaWorld, San Diego, in January 2017.

Closer to home, “Granny”, J2, was born about 1911 and died in late 2016.

This sparkling Luna even forgets his very own past. His namesake, the real Luna (L98), was a very young 6 year old, and too friendly with humans. He died in Nootka Sound (March 2006) when he got too close to the propeller of a tug.

On the other hand, Luna has lots of orca company on land, if not at sea. ‘Land Orcas’ are no surprise in Vancouver. Murals and statues are ubiquitous. Some are outstanding, many are not. Doug Copeland’s witty lego ‘Digital Orca’ breaches beside the Vancouver Convention Centre. Bill Reid’s “Chief of the Undersea World” embodies First Nations sensitivity as it leaps outside the Aquarium, ironid because of the many orca casualties. Other good works show an awareness of the animal and the predicament.

Digital Orca (2010)
Douglas Coupland, Digital Orca, 2010
Bill Reid, Chief of the Undersea World (1984)
Bill Reid, Chief of the Undersea World (1984)

The ‘Land Orcas’ must be poor company for Luna. The Vancouver hockey team call themselves Canucks, but their logo is an aggressive orca. The jackets, toques, and scarves form migrating schools in streets, especially on game nights. Murals, both of orcas and humpbacks, swim around construction sites, factories, and schools. Rarely, small groups of actual orcas appear around Vancouver. When they do they are pursued by Whale Watch tours, which constantly disrupt feeding and ‘whale space’.

Maybe this Luna comes from somewhere else. She resembles a local orca, but she was designed by WK Illumination in Austria. The metal manufacturer is in Slovenia. Neither is close to the North Sea, or any other. There has been no acknowledged local participation. Perhaps the web is the ocean Luna first swam in and thus what she looks like. The West End Business Improvement Association and Lumiere Festival were the apparent progenitors.

Vancouver aquarium finally ended its 30 years of orca shows in 1996. It had decreased its cetacean holdings by 2017—but only when it was directed to do so by the Stanley Park Board. In a different climate even SeaWorld (San Diego) has eliminated its acrobatic aqua-circus.

Luna, the incandescent whale decoration on English Bay,  is a strange creature in a strange place. She performs circus stunts from a SeaWorld past while gazing out at an ocean where a distantly related, but truly magnificent, species is quickly going extinct.

Luna Tail during assembly 2017

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