The Whale Sanctuary Project, a U.S. based conservation group, is in talks with residents and government officials on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore in the hopes of setting up a place for once captive beluga whales to live. The group’s mission is ‘to establish a model seaside sanctuary where whales and dolphins can be rehabilitated or can live permanently in an environment that maximizes well-being and autonomy and is as close as possible to their natural habitat’. Since whales raised in captivity can’t be fully released because they never learned the skills needed to fend for themselves, the belugas can’t be released into the wild or left completely on their own. There are over 200 whales in captivity around the world, including about 50 here in Canada at Ontario’s Marine Land. The proposed sanctuary would be able to house six or eight whales.
The North American-wide search has been narrowed to two sites. One is beside Sherbrooke in Port Hilford and the other is in Mushaboom adjacent to Sheet Harbour.
The project offers not only sanctuary for Belugas but also potential employment and tourism opportunities for the Eastern Shore. Either site would be accompanied by a veterinary facility to be staffed full time and an education and outreach centre located nearby. Finally the whales would require maintenance staffing as they have been reared in captivity. While both sites have committees of local citizens advocating on their behalf, the Mushaboom site appears to be the better physical site but does not have unanimous community support. The Sherbrooke group claims full community support for their location.
The proposed site near Mushaboom, an area between Malagash Island and West Gibbs Island known as “the Run” or “the Gates” is protected from extreme weather, offers deep water and good flow. The proposal is for a 40 hectare area to be netted off and a seasonal corridor provided. Some area fisherman and boaters, who use the area as safe passage, are concerned about how limited access might impact them and others.
A meeting held in Sheet Harbour on Dec 16th allowed organizers to present their latest designs and hear community concerns. Reports suggest that there is still community opposition to the Mushaboom site. Next steps would involve the Whale Sanctuary Project selecting a site and beginning the permitting process with the Province. The project will cost about $20 million to get up and running, followed by $1 to $2 million in operating costs each year. The Whale Sanctuary Project will pay for all of it through endowments.
Beluga whales mainly inhabit the Arctic and sub-Arctic waters. During the summer they can be found in the deep waters along the coasts of northern Canada, Alaska, western Greenland and northern Russia. They do however go as far south as the St. Lawrence River so the Atlantic waters would be a suitable choice.
To find out who and what the Whale Sanctuary Project is follow this link: https://whalesanctuaryproject.org/