People trying to ride beluga in Grate’s Cove: DFO
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says that the amount and types of human interaction with a juvenile beluga whale who has been hanging out in the waters in Grates Cove have increased to the point where DFO is concerned for the health and safety of the animal.
Despite frequent patrols and one-on-one education by fisheries officers, DFO says it’s receiving reports from the public about scuba divers in the water, and even reported incidents of people trying to harness and ride the animal.
“Somebody reported that somebody tried to put a lasso around it or something and I don’t know why or what or if it in fact even happened but that is one of the reports,” Garry Stenson - a DFO scientist - says.
DFO does know for certain people have been swimming and interacting with the animal. People have posted several YouTube videos of them with the whale.
“There’s pictures of them hanging on to it or cuddling up close to it, that kind of stuff,” Stenson says.
Belugas are social creatures, he adds, and normally stay with their pods or at least within a dis- tance where communication is still possible. Every couple of years a young beluga shows up in local waters that has clearly wandered quite a distance from its group as is expected of the young beluga in Grates Cove.
“They’re perceived as being warm and fuzzy,” says Stenson. “They’re very appealing. There’s no doubt about it.”
Curious and intelligent, belugas will enjoy interacting with people but animals who become accustomed to humans can be put in peril.
In 2002, a young female beluga in Calvert had become accustomed to boats and people be- cause of human interaction. The female surfaced below a fishing vessel at the wharf when it was put into gear and the propeller cut the whale to pieces.
Another beluga was struck in 2002 in Codroy. That animal managed to survive its injuries.
In a news release, DFO is hoping to save this beluga from a similar fate.
“We are asking the public to refrain from swimming or otherwise interacting with the beluga whale in Grates Cove. Human interaction is disturbing the normal life processes of this animal, which may ultimately result in its injury or death. By remaining in the area, this juvenile beluga is unlikely to rejoin its pod and has a greater likelihood of being struck by the prop of a boat causing injuries or death,” DFO says in the release.
Under the Marine Mammal Regulations of the Fisheries Act, it is illegal to disturb a marine mammal. People caught doing so will be investigated and can face possible arrest and prosecution.
“Do you like these animals and do you wanna see the best things for them? Then keep away from them,” Stenson recommends.