Luna was born into the Southern Resident Killer Whale community that consisted of approximately 80 killer whales at the time of his birth. These whales have been studied since the 1970s and scientists have learned to recognize each whale by photo-identification, which allows them to track each individuals movements and social relationships. Luna was given the name "L98" at birth according to the scientific naming conventions for resident killer whales. A Seattle newspaper held a naming contest in 2000 which resulted in L98 being given the common name Luna, Latin for moon. The contest winner was an 8-year-old girl from Bellingham who said, "The orca whale explores the ocean like the moon explores the Earth and that is why his/her name is Luna."
During the winter of 2000-2001, 5 members of L pod disappeared which was considerably more than the typical mortality rate of one or two per year. Among those missing and presumed dead was Orcan, who was 25 years old and full of life. The unusual losses of that winter led to speculation that L pod had been struck by a catastrophic event that Luna might have witnessed. It is common for other members of a pod to babysit young killer whales. It was speculated that Luna might have been travelling with his uncle Orcan away from the rest of the pod. After Orcan had passed away, Luna was next seen in July 2001, alone in Nootka Sound, hundreds of kilometres from any other Southern Resident killer whale.
Life in Nootka Sound & his connection to local First Nations
A few days before Luna's appearance in Nootka Sound, Chief Ambrose Maquinna of the local Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations died. In July 2002, Mike Maquinna, who had succeeded his father Ambrose as chief, declared that Luna would be given the name of Tsux'iit in honor of his father. The Mowachaht/Muchalaht people said that because their chief expressed a wish to return as a killer whale, the appearance of Luna four days after his death was symbolic and likely to be the reincarnation of Chief Tsux'iit.
Luna avoided boats at first and kept his distance from people. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) tried to keep Luna's presence in Nootka Sound a secret for as long as possible and did not tell other scientists until December 2001, by which time he had been there for six months. By the summer of 2002, news had spread about Luna in Nootka Sound. As time went on, Luna become more and more friendly with boaters and found that people would give him the attention he needed, whether they wanted to or not. Luna often nudged boats and would spin it around like a rubber duck in a bathtub. He would bounce it up and down by pushing the hull and would jump in front to prevent boats from speeding away.