He’s a young beluga, his name is Nepi and Canadian marine researchers worry that he’s way too friendly for his own good.
Nepi, who is estimated to be about four-years-old, is becoming something of a celebrity in certain circles in Quebec and the Maritimes.
He was first spotted in June 2017 when he got stuck in the mouth of the Nepisiguit River in Bathurst, New Brunswick.
He was rescued and flown to the St. Lawrence Estuary in Quebec, a critical a critical habitat for belugas, which are protected under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.
He disappeared for a while.
Then, this past summer he turned up in Nova Scotia.
Earlier this month in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, he decided to take a closer look–and join–a local diving class.
“We heard a whale, or what we thought was something blowing, and then this whale appeared,” recalled Kimball Johnston, an instructor at Holland College’s commercial diving program, told Canadian Press.
The class thought Nefi would swim away.
Instead, he hung around the divers for several hours.
“I would say my first reaction was excitement, but I won’t lie, I was freaking out,” said student Miguel Martinez.
“At your back, there is something coming and, well, you are underwater, so you have one foot of visibility and after that you turn around and you see this big eye just close by and looking at you.”
Thrilling to be sure, but scientists say it is not such a hot idea for the whale.
Robert Michaud is the scientific director of the Quebec-based Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals, the group that rescued Nepi back in 2017 in New Brunswick.
He says it’s worrying to see a young beluga getting friendly with people while away from home — especially when it’s a repeat offender.
When belugas get too close to boats and people, Michaud says bad things can happen.
Michaud says he knows of many cases in which a beluga got hit by a boat or struck by propellors and killed, which is why it’s dangerous to allow them to get too close and encourage them to be fearless of people and their vessels.
“We don’t see what’s going on under our boat. So if we were fully aware, three dimensions around our boats, it might not be as dangerous,” Michaud explained. “But when the animals are not cautious, when you move in reverse with your boat, then accidents happen. So we hope it won’t happen with Nepi.”
(Editor’s note: this story appeared on news wires the same day Japan announced it would resume commercial whaling in July 2019.)
With files from Canadian Press, CBC, Global News