New Brunswick

Rescue mission planned for beluga whale stranded in Bathurst

Experts are developing a plan to capture and relocate the beluga whale that has been seen in the Nepisiguit River in Bathurst, N.B., over the last two weeks in hopes of improving its chances of survival.

Scientists hope to learn from plan to relocate the beluga

A plan to rescue a beluga whale from the Nepisiguit River in New Brunswick is being developed by marine experts. (Jennifer Devereau/Facebook)

Experts are developing a plan to capture and relocate a beluga whale that has been seen in the Nepisiguit River in Bathurst, over the last two weeks in hopes of improving its chances of survival.

Robert Michaud, scientific director of GREMM, a marine mammal research group based in Quebec, says they're hoping to take the whale to the Cacouna region in the St. Lawrence River and such a plan has never been tried before.

But with the beluga population declining, he's hopeful the plan will show positive results.

"We will try to learn from this little guy, if we can help them by doing rescue and re-introduction in their original population. So we cross our fingers," Michaud.

It's not clear how the beluga whale ended up in the Nepisiguit River in early June but marine experts have said it will not leave on its own. 

"We're confident we're correct in our decision. We have to move this animal so we'll move as quickly as possible," said Michaud. 

Michaud said the plan is being developed with input from experts at the Vancouver Aquarium, the John Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and University of Montreal. It's also being overseen by the the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Whale in good shape

"I spent the afternoon on the river with the whale," said Michaud on Monday. "I was pleased to see that the whale is hanging out out there. It's swimming still pretty vigorously." 

While those involved are concerned with the whale's health, the sight of it swimming robustly, was good news in light of so many unknowns, including whether the beluga is feeding or not. 

While it is still unknown if the whale is male or female, it is believed to be two to three-years-old and would know how to feed on its own. 

Bored on its own

But in an interview with Shift, Michaud said the whale must be bored.

"These animals belong to highly social species," he said. "These animals are living in groups and are in constant interaction with their peers so this animal belongs with its group."

Michaud said a suitable social group will be found for the beluga and with a satellite tag attached to it, researchers will be able to monitor the animal after the operation. 

Michaud said many of the same people working to capture the beluga were part of the successful rescue of the dolphins from the Lameque Harbour in 2016. 

Robert Michaud, head scientist of GREMM out of Quebec, says the beluga is a 'vagrant whale,' which is common in the Maritimes. (Radio-Canada)

"We don't want to underestimate the difficulty of the task … these animals are brilliant, they are agile. They are in their element, we are not."

Once captured, the whale will be lifted from the water by crane, placed in a tank and transported by either truck or plane, depending on its size. 

Officials are still asking local residents to not get too close to the animal and to refrain from feeding it. 

With files from Shift New Brunswick