Nova Scotia

Beluga whale sighting in Liverpool Harbour worries marine biologist

Experts are asking the public to minimize contact with a lone beluga whale that was spotted in Liverpool Harbour off Nova Scotia's South Shore and may be the same animal seen off Halifax in late May.

'Do not swim with the whale. That is a very important thing,' says whale advocate

Whale watchers on the shore of Liverpool harbour point to a beluga whale that has been swimming in the area. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

A marine biologist is concerned about the safety of a beluga whale after a sighting in the Liverpool Harbour off Nova Scotia's South Shore.

The Marine Animal Rescue Society's Andrew Reid said it's dangerous for a whale to take up residence in a spot so close to human activity.

"We didn't want him to start to reside in a local area and start to interact with people, because that increases the danger of the animal getting hit by a boat and killed," he said.

Reid is asking people to keep their distance from the whale.

On Friday morning, a team including Reid and Fisheries and Oceans Canada officials went out on a boat, hoping to collect a skin sample from the whale. The plan was to use a device that looks like a hand plunger, to take a small skin and blubber sample.

Marine biologists watch a beluga whale spout from its blowhole Friday in Liverpool harbour. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

However, the water was too rough for the team to get close enough to obtain the sample safely. They said they will try again at a later date.

Because of the friendly nature of beluga whales, Reid expects they will be able to get close.

Obtaining the sample shouldn't hurt the whale.

"We don't expect it to have any adverse effect on the animal," said Reid.

Reid believes the whale is the same one that was spotted in the Halifax area in late May.

"We don't get solitary belugas that often, so to have more than one would definitely be unusual," he said.

A skin sample would help experts determine where the whale is from. It is most likely from either the Gulf of St. Lawrence or the Arctic. Reid said knowing this is important, because whales from the St. Lawrence are more endangered.

This beluga whale was spotted near Halifax in late May, and is thought likely to be the same one seen in Liverpool harbour. (Submitted by Tonya Wimmer)

The longer whales stay in proximity of humans, the greater the chance of injury or worse.

Please don't feed the whale

Catherine Kinsman, founder and project director with the Whale Stewardship Project, had some advice for people interested in watching the beluga.

"Some things we can keep in mind: Don't offer the whale any food, he or she doesn't need it, it's not healthy. Slow down if you are in a recreational or commercial vessel. Don't change speed or direction abruptly."

Keeping a smooth trajectory lets the whale predict what direction the vessel is heading.

"Do not swim with the whale. That is a very important thing," she said.

"If you are in your boat and the whale approaches, resist the temptation to reach out and touch the whale."

Kinsman said the safest way to view a beluga, for both people and animals, is to stay on the shore.

"Get your binoculars, stand on the land and enjoy seeing the whale come and go."

She had some tips for spotting the whale.

There have been multiple sightings of this beluga whale in Liverpool harbour over the last week. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

"You're going to hear the blowhole coming out of the water and the breathing. Beluga whales don't do a lot of aerial display typically. You might see a crescent shape of whitish skin above the water. Think of a crescent moon."

Occasionally the whales will raise their faces out of the water to take a look around, Kinsman said.

"Listen for other sounds, beluga whales are very vocal. You may actually hear the whale make a sound like a squeak, a whistle-y kind of sound, even a raspberry," she added.

The program has been tracking lone beluga whales since 1998, when a young female, which was named Wilma, showed up in Guysborough Harbour.

Since then, a number have been sighted around Nova Scotia and off Newfoundland and Labrador as well. It isn't known why the animals detach from their pods and come south. But they don't  travel solo for very long.

"They're attracted to sounds. Essentially they are lonely, they are gregarious social animals by nature. They are looking for somewhere to belong," Kinsman said.

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