Group looking for whale sanctuary sites

PORT HAWKESBURY: Would a sanctuary for beluga whales be a good fit for a local community?

That was the question offered on February 4, as officials from the Whale Sanctuary Project visited Port Hawkesbury to flesh out a project that will offer a retirement home to whales being retired from entertainment parks.

Charles Vinick, the project’s executive director, said his time in Port Hawkesbury was well spent.

“There were a variety of residents in the audience, they asked a number of good questions, and there were some fishermen there who shared their concerns,” he told The Reporter after the meeting.

“That’s all very helpful to us. What we’re really trying to do is identify communities that think this concept would be an enhancement to their community. Then, with a community, we’d identify a site that fits the criteria needed for a whale sanctuary.”

Similar meetings took place in Dartmouth, Liverpool, Sherbrooke, and Sheet Harbour. While the meetings took place in those communities, people from other villages and towns are welcome to contact Vinick’s group about having the sanctuary located there.

Vinick was joined at the meeting by Lori Marino, a neuroscientist who serves as the president of the Whale Sanctuary Project.

“Whales and dolphins have a highly complex sense of self,” said Marino. “They suffer greatly spending their lives in concrete tanks, and the only way to end their suffering is to relocate them to a permanent seaside sanctuary, where they can receive expert care in a natural environment.”

The organization is looking for a 40-hectare area (just under half a square kilometre) along the Atlantic shore of Nova Scotia that can become a home to whales who are retired from entertainment facilities or who are injured and need rehabilitation within a netted-off area.

Sanctuaries already exist for land-based animals like elephants and chimpanzees that come from zoos and circuses, but there are none yet for whales and dolphins.

The whales would not be candidates for release into the wild, as they have no survival skills. They would have to be fed by staff and have 24-7 care. A sanctuary of this size, Vinick said, is 300-times larger than the world’s largest performance tank.

“A seaside sanctuary will give them a chance to thrive in a stimulating natural ecosystem,” he said.

“We realize that people have questions and concerns about such a novel project. Some will be interested in potential environmental impacts. And local fishers will want to be assured that their livelihoods are preserved.

“The environmental impact of that should be minimal. In a whale sanctuary, everything is fed directly to the whale, so nothing is put into the water column to negatively impact the environment.”

Antibiotics, in some cases, are given to the animals, but those antibiotics are always given orally, he said.

“In the main, we are feeding them human-grade frozen fish, and we would become, frankly, a large customer of local product,” he said. “If we have five to eight whales, we’d be looking to buy roughly a tonne of food every nine days.

“We think there are good things here for communities. We’d be looking to build an education centre where children could come and learn about whales, school programs, a nature trail, and jobs for local people. There’s a need for personnel with animal care and some security requirements. There will be full and part time jobs.

“A project of this nature could shine a light on the community in which it’s housed.”

Vinick is interested in hearing from anyone who things their coastal community could be well suited for the project. He can be contacted at: charlesv@whalesanctuary.org. With that, more information is available at: whalesanctuaryproject.org.