Professional scuba diving students were surprised to be joined by a beluga whale during a dive in Summerside Harbour last week! This species is rarely observed near Prince Edward Island. The news report on CBC caught the attention of the team of the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals (GREMM). By comparing the images taken by the journalist with those taken by GREMM over the past two years, beluga specialists were able to confirm their doubt: it is indeed “Nepi”.
This beluga whale caused much commotion when he was caught in the Nepisiguit River in New Brunswick in June 2017. A major relocation operation was carried out, in a hope that this young male would once again join his family and contribute in the recovery of its population in the St. Lawrence.
However, in July 2018, Nepi was observed in Ingonish, Nova Scotia. He was seen in the company of another male beluga whale belonging to the St. Lawrence beluga population. No more news followed until December 7 when Holland College students were able to observe the animal up close; this time without a companion.
“It’s good news to see him in good flesh. However, it is worrisome to still find him in the Maritimes,” says Robert Michaud, Scientific Director of GREMM and coordinator of the 2017 beluga relocation operation. “What is most worrying is to see him reach out to humans,” he says. Most cases of beluga whales observed outside their area have resulted in accidental deaths. “Belugas are social animals. When they are alone, they seek the company of other species, even sometimes boats and humans. And this close relationship is too often fatal,” he explains.
Since the December 7 observation, the beluga has not been observed again. “If you see the beluga whale on the water, keep your distance and slow down, for its safety and yours,” says Robert Michaud. According to the Marine Mammal Regulations of the Fisheries Act of Canada, it is prohibited to voluntarily swim with marine mammals. In addition, a distance of 100-metres must be maintained between all vessels and animals.
If you see a beluga whale in the Maritimes Region, contact the Marine Animal Response Society (MARS) toll-free at 1-866-567-6277.