Swimming with a whale
Carbonear resident dives with beluga
Adam Penney of Carbonear recently got the chance to swim with a beluga whale that’s become a regular attraction in the harbour of Grate’s Cove. While it might have been neat for him to have an up-close encounter, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is advising people to stay away from the whale if at all possible.
Adam Penney had not planned on suiting up and diving with the beluga whale coasting around Grates Cove harbour in recent weeks.
The 33-year-old Carbonear resident had only banked on taking a look at the mammal — affectionately dubbed Whaley by the locals — over Labour Day weekend. He had his diving gear with him, but wasn’t sure if he was getting in the water.
That was until he saw a family suiting up to go in the drink.
“When we got there, the whale wasn’t there right away,” said Penney. “Apparently, he follows the boats. He’s coming and going all the time from the wharf there.”
Entering into the wild with any animal can be as rewarding as it can be dangerous. If animals feel like they’ve been cornered, they may strike out. It is likely this particular beluga was separated from its mother and pod.
Climbing into the water, Penney was astonished by the way the beluga moved in the water.
“Just to be up close and to see how they move through the water,” he said. “Like how they control their buoyancy and the things that they do just blows your mind.
“You expect one thing with regards to the way (humans) swim with momentum and what you think is going to happen, then all of a sudden he twists, turns and he is right back where he started from.”
One thing that struck the experienced diver was the fluency and grace that the beluga swam with. These whales can reach weights of 3,500 pounds and can grow to be 18 feet long.
“It was amazing to see,” said Penney.
Once the whale found Penney in the water, it was hard for the diver to shake him.
“He followed us around right until the very end,” he said. “It didn’t seem like he wanted us to leave. Like all animals, he was a bit skittish at first.
“He was getting pretty playful at the end of it for sure.”
Penney is always wary of how interactions with humans can influence a wild animal.
“I always worry what too much human interaction could do for his future,” he said. “Will he even go look for his pod or hang around the wharf until something happens?
“There is always that worry, I guess.”
A love of diving
For the past six years, Penney has been a certified rescue diver. Although he does not do it professionally, he loves doing it recreationally.
A fascination with the ocean has driven him to dive with humpback whales in the North Atlantic and explore the sunken caverns along the Mexican coast. Penney’s dream is to swim in the warm waters of the Pacific ocean during the migration of the massive whale shark.
“It is something I always wanted to do,” said Penney. “I’m a bit of a thrill seeker. It is a whole different world being in the ocean.”
Being able to dive in an animal’s natural environment is something that costs money. In this instance, it cost Penney gas and time.
He has been in the Atlantic with whales, but never this close.
“I never thought I’d have that kind of interaction with an animal so close to home,” he said.
33-year-old Adam Penney dove into the chilly waters of Grates Cove harbour over the Labour Day weekend and spent some time with Whaley, a beluga whale who has been seen around the harbour the last few weeks.