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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 March 2006, 16:58 GMT
Canada's lonely killer whale dies
People try to pet killer whale Luna. File photo
The killer whale was a huge success with tourists
A lonely killer whale that captured the hearts of many Canadians is believed to have died after being hit by a tugboat propeller, officials have said.

The orca, nicknamed Luna, became separated from his family off Vancouver Island in British Columbia in 2001, and soon started playing with boats.

It later sparked a fierce row between scientists and aboriginal Indians.

The Indians thwarted efforts to reunite Luna with his pod, believing he was the reincarnation of a dead chief.

The seven-year-old male mammal appeared to have been sucked into a propeller after miscalculating its power, John For from Canada's department of oceans and fisheries said.

"Luna has been fixated on boats for a number of years now," Mr Ford told Vancouver's Global television, adding that it was "a tragic accident".

Luna is believed to have died instantly. The remains still need to be formally identified by experts.

'Re-incarnated chief'

The 1.8-tonne creature proved an instant hit with tourists, and his exploits soon gained attention in the world media.

Despite this, scientists - who had seen him as a safety hazard - wanted to return Luna to its family, some 300km down the coast.

Aboriginal Indians, however, managed to derail the effort.

They had told the story of their chief who on his deathbed in 2001 promised to return as a whale.

Three days after the chief died, Luna first appeared in their harbour.

The Indians used their traditional canoes to lure Luna away from the scientists' pen.

The orca (Orcinus orca), although termed a whale, is actually the largest member of the oceanic dolphin family.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The BBC's Jim Fish
"It's becoming a tug of love"



SEE ALSO
Tribe halts killer whale rescue
19 Jun 04 |  Americas
Orca whale reunited with family
11 Jul 03 |  Americas
Orphaned orca swims to freedom
15 Jul 02 |  Americas
Engine fault hits orca mission
12 Jul 02 |  Americas
Fears for orphaned baby orca
05 Mar 02 |  Americas
Orphaned killer whale arrives home
14 Jul 02 |  Americas

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