SEATTLE (AP) – A lone killer whale known for seeking social contact from boats in Canada’s Nootka Sound apparently died Friday when he was accidentally struck by a tugboat propeller, Canadian authorities said.

The orca, known as Luna, had wandered into the sound on the western side of Vancouver Island in 2001 and stayed after being separated from its family.

Luna, whom local aboriginal people associated with their late chief, was known to scientists as L-98 and was a member of one of Washington state’s three resident orca pods, or family groups. Luna had damaged and disabled several boats over the years, and had been gathering scars from close calls with propellers.

A 104-foot seagoing tug was idling when Luna approached Friday. Luna, known to enjoy playing in boat wakes, was swimming under the vessel and was hit by a propeller, said spokeswoman Lara Sloan with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

“Luna came over as he does and was interacting – disappearing under the hull and so on. … He must have gotten drawn into the propeller,” said scientist and orca expert John Ford.

A carcass was not immediately recovered.

“We don’t know 100 percent but we do believe it’s Luna,” Sloan said.

Luna was about 6 years old. Orca life stages roughly parallel those of humans, so he was the killer-whale equivalent of a young child.

Canada tried in 2004 to reunite Luna with his pod in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which separates Washington state from Vancouver Island. The effort was scrapped when local Indians lured Luna away from the net pen intended to snare him.

The Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation believed the orca embodied the spirit of their dead chief, Ambrose Maquinna, and did not want him forcibly removed.



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