THE WHALE tells the true story of a young, wild killer whale - an orca - nicknamed Luna, who lost contact with his family on the coast of British Columbia and turned up alone in a narrow stretch of sea between mountains, a place called Nootka Sound. Orcas are social. They live with their families all their lives. An orca who gets separated usually just fades away and dies. Luna was alone, but he didn't fade away. There weren't any familiar orcas in Nootka Sound, but there were people, in boats and on the shore. So he started trying to make contact. And people welcomed him. Most of them. This contact did not turn out to be simple. It was as if we humans weren't ready for him.
Set on the rugged western coast of Vancouver Island, THE WHALE describes what happens when Luna, a baby orca, gets separated from his family and unexpectedly starts making contact with people along a scenic fjord called Nootka Sound. Because orcas are highly social creatures who spend their lives traveling with their pods, Luna attempts to find a surrogate family among the area residents, much to their delight. But as word spreads about Luna, people become torn between their love for the lonely young whale and fears that human contact might harm him.
Luna's saga is seen through the eyes of the colorful characters who live and work along the Sound and who fall in love with the whale -- including a cook on an old freighter, a fisheries officer conflicted by what he thinks Luna needs and what he is told to do, a grandmother who is arrested for petting Luna, and a Native American elder whose tribe believes Luna is the reincarnation of a chief.
The film also describes how Parfit and Chisholm themselves, who first went to Nootka Sound on assignment for Smithsonian, grow so concerned about Luna's fate that they get involved in trying to help him, crossing the traditional line between journalist and subject and becoming characters in the very story they are telling. Their efforts to find ways to safely give Luna the attention he seems so determined to get are a major part of the film's climax.