Peo­ple try­ing to ride bel­uga in Grate’s Cove: DFO

The Compass - - NEWS -

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.

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