Swimming with a whale

Car­bon­ear res­i­dent dives with bel­uga

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER

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.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

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.

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