PEI

'Vagrant' beluga may be sticking around for food, attention, says Marine Animal Response Society

A “vagrant” beluga that made its way down the Hillsborough River to Mount Stewart may be in no hurry to leave if its food source is plentiful and it’s getting attention from humans, says the executive director of the Marine Animal Response Society.

'Belugas in general are quite social animals and so they very much can seek out interactions'

A beluga whale has attracted many onlookers in Mount Stewart. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

A "vagrant" beluga that made its way down the Hillsborough River to Mount Stewart may be in no hurry to leave if its food source is plentiful and it's getting attention from humans, says the executive director of the Marine Animal Response Society.

Tonya Wimmer said beluga whales are social animals that can occasionally show up in waters inland.

"Belugas in general are quite social animals and so they very much can seek out interactions or be very curious about what things that people are doing on the water," she said in an interview on Island Morning.

"And we run into the risk that if we as humans choose to interact with those animals, it might keep them there and that can put them in harm's way. If we suddenly get more people on the water or other activities that, you know, needing to happen, like fishing."

Seen it before

Wimmer said they have been able to identify the beluga as one they have seen before and catalogued, based on an unusual lump on its back.

"Most of the animals we see around the Maritime provinces are actually members of the endangered population in the St. Lawrence estuary. Most of them stay up there. But every now and then we get one or two, maybe three animals that wander off and then they end up in some of our other harbours and they sort of make their way a little bit south."

Wimmer said these animals are known as "vagrants." 

"They're wandering around and they seem to be feeding and with this animal, it seems to be the case as well, that it probably followed fish up the river, which happens with many species and could be very happily sitting there having a bit of a snack, actually, and sticking around while that exists."

Many people have been flocking to Mount Stewart to get a glimpse of the beluga. Last weekend, RCMP had to disperse the crowd after it got too large, raising concerns about traffic and COVID-19 protocols.

Watch from a distance

Wimmer said it's "wonderful" for people to see the beluga, as long as they do it at a distance.

"These are really amazing animals. But it really is important that people are not doing anything to interact with it or, you know, throwing objects or things to try to attract it and never feeding them. So this really is really about the human behaviour in this situation, about how we can keep this animal safe as much as possible until it hopefully leaves on its own."

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Jesara Sinclair

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