PEI

Young beluga in Summerside 'lives a dangerous life'

A marine mammal research group in Quebec has identified a young beluga whale recently spotted in a P.E.I. harbour as one that has been rescued before.

'It's not a good idea for a young whale to be on its own'

Holland College diving instructor Kimball Johnston says he has never seen a beluga in Summerside Harbour before. (Submitted by Kimball Johnston)

A marine mammal research group in Quebec has identified a young beluga whale recently spotted in a P.E.I. harbour as one that has been rescued before.

A marine diving class in Summerside spent several hours in the water last Friday while the whale kept them company.

While the students were thrilled by the experience, it was worrisome behaviour to Robert Michaud, the scientific director of the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals.

"We had mixed feelings. Is it Nepi?" said Michaud.

"If it's not him, there's another whale that is not in a good situation."

Nepi was swimming with a friend in Ingonish. (Submitted by Levon Drover)

After examining images provided by CBC News, the group determined it was Nepi, a whale rescued from the Nepisiquit River in New Brunswick in June 2017. He was tracked by a tag for 20 days, and seemed to be doing OK, but then they lost the signal.

Nepi was spotted again in July, swimming with one other beluga near Ingonish, N.S. In that case as well, Nepi was approaching and investigating what people were up to.

Michaud said it is not good for Nepi to be so far away from his pod. St. Lawrence belugas do tend to move to the mouth of the river in winter when the river freezes, but usually don't stray far into the Gulf.

"In all animal populations young animals tend to be wandering around a little bit more. It's the same thing in humans. Every summer, almost, we have a few belugas that end up in Nova Scotia. Some go as far as New Jersey/New York waters," he said.

The beluga joined students in Summerside Harbour last week. (Submitted by Kimball Johnston)

"It's not a good idea for a young whale to be on its own. It's not a good idea for a young whale to interact with humans in boats. This young animal lives a dangerous life."

Belugas travelling in unfamiliar places can make mistakes, said Michaud, and that's probably what happened when Nepi got stuck in the Nepisiquit River when water levels dropped, leaving the water too shallow for an escape.

Another problem is that belugas are highly social animals. Away from their own kind, said Michaud, they will investigate anything that's moving in the water, including humans and boats.

Nepi took one last breath of air before swimming under the ice and back into the Summerside Harbour last week. (John Robertson/CBC)

Stories of whales that regularly interact with people and boats never end well, said Michaud.

"The more that he's interacting with people and/or boats the less he will be inclined to swim back to his own kind," he said.

He noted that federal regulations require people to keep a 100-metre distance from marine mammals. Keeping some distance can help prevent whales from becoming too familiar with people.

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With files from Island Morning

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