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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Wayward Whales - Beluga back in Bay of Fundy

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Wayward beluga makes waves in N.B.
Last Updated: Thursday, May 13, 2010 | 1:05 PM AT
CBC News


Fishermen play with a juvenile beluga whale in the Bay of Fundy. (Neil Withers)

A young beluga whale likely hundreds of kilometres from its pod has some new friends in the Bay of Fundy.

Fishermen in New Brunswick are getting up close and personal with the animal, which they say is playful and interactive.

"He was quite curious," said Neil Withers, a fisherman in St. Martins, about 50 kilometres northeast of Saint John.

"I don't know if he was more interested in us than we were in him. You hold the bucket over the side of the boat and he'd come over and play with the bucket and spray us."

Withers said local fishermen have been seeing the whale, which he estimates to be about 2.5 metres to three metres long, for several months.

Withers said the animal even followed a scallop boat into the harbour.

Experts say the beluga is likely a juvenile that somehow became separated from its pod. The nearest known pod is in the St. Lawrence estuary, hundreds of kilometres away.

"He’s a very, very long way from home," said Cathy Kinsman of the Whale Stewardship Project in Nova Scotia.

Kinsman’s organization has been researching solitary, sociable belugas and advocating for their protection since 1998. She said this is not the first time a lone beluga has made contact with humans.

"Since we've been studying them we know that there have been at least 20 of these young juvenile animals that have become sociable with humans across Eastern Canada," Kinsman said.

Little is known about why the belugas become separated from their group.

Kinsman said the whales usually make contact with humans because they are lonely.

"These little animals are typically not looking for food," she said. "What they are really looking for is social interaction."

She said the young whales have strong social needs that they are trying to fill from other sources since there are no other belugas around.

Kinsman said if fishermen like Withers come across the beluga again, they should not attempt to feed it and should exercise caution so that boat propellers do not harm the animal.

Withers said he hopes he does have another encounter with the whale.

"It makes for an interesting day," he said.

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