Residents discuss potential whale sanctuary

Need for consultation with fishers emphasized

By Rob Wolf    

INDIAN HARBOUR LAKE / JORDANVILLE – A full house was on hand at a meeting to discuss the possibility of establishing a beluga whale sanctuary along the Eastern Shore in Guysborough County on Sunday, April 28 at the Indian Harbour Lake / Jordanville Community Centre. Representatives from the Whale Sanctuary Project (WSP) and the local Rural Institute for Cultural Heritage and Environmental Sustainability (RICHES) Steering Committee were on hand to talk about the potential project.

Close to 100 people came out to hear a presentation on the desire to release captive whales, porpoises and dolphins to locations along a coastal area where they can survive and thrive. Because they have lived their lives in captivity, these cetaceans cannot survive if set free in the wild.

There are three locations in North America being considered by the WSP: Washington State, British Columbia and Nova Scotia. Three sites in Nova Scotia are being examined: Shelburne, Sheet Harbour and Guysborough County. The local sites have not been chosen but they include Liscomb Harbour, Fisherman’s Harbour and Port Hilford. The ideal site would be 40 hectares (roughly a half a kilometre square) and ice-free year-round with a depth of 50 feet.

The meeting was held to engage the community to see if the project could provide a viable home for five to eight beluga whales based on two very important criteria: site location suitability and community engagement and support for the project.

Charles Vinick, Executive Director for the WSP was pleased with the turnout and the comments and concerns raised by members of the community. “The engagement that this community has shown has been extremely positive,” he said. “They raised some excellent questions and we want to continue the conversation to see if we can make this site work for everyone involved.”

He also noted that members of the community and the RICHES committee have been excited about exploring this possibility and what it could mean for tourism and conservation efforts in the area. Vinick also explained that the WSP is not looking for any funding, federally or provincially. “All of the capital and ongoing costs for the project will be covered through philanthropic organizations; that’s our job. What we are looking for from the community is engagement and co-operation as we try to find a suitable site that can work for all parties.”

President for the WSP, Lori Marino, described the need for such a facility, noting legislation currently before government (Bill S-203) banning marine mammals in captivity. “There are currently over 3000 cetaceans in captivity. This is only a start, but we can show the world that such a facility is possible, and lead the way for others.” She said the turnout was “better than we could have hoped for” and is happy to see local residents standing up for the project.

The site chosen will not be accessible to recreational or commercial boating or swimming, as the whales will have little to no interactions with humans. There will be a viewing area as well as an interpretive centre based onshore for people to observe the whales, but proximity to them will be limited.

Ginny Boudreau from the Guysborough County Inshore Fisherman’s Association raised a number of concerns about the project, citing that the only group that is being asked to give up something are the local fisherman. She noted that other industrial projects along the Eastern Shore are forcing fishers to move from their traditional grounds. She emphasized the need for “consultation with the people who will affected by this project the most.”

There was obvious support from many in the crowd including local resident Any Simon, a member of the RICHES Steering Committee who emphasized the need to consider this project as an opportunity to show “that fisheries and conservation can co-exist,” adding “this can be a legacy for our children, an example to the world that positive like-minded people can work together to make change.”

The project has a target date to be up and running by 2020, with many decisions yet to be made. The next steps include meeting with local fishers and community members to see if there can be a suitable site located for further exploration.

Stephen Flemming, RICHES co-ordinator, said the project would give “the opportunity to talk to the world about how sustainability and conservation can be done, as well as be a significant driver for local tourism.”