There are an estimated 200 beluga in captivity, An environmental organisation hopes to create a natural sanctuary for 4-8 whales off the eastern Nova Scotia coast (The Canadian Press)

Beluga whale sanctuary for Canada likely

Plans seem well advanced for the creation of an open ocean sanctuary in east coast Canada for captive beluga whales.

After scouting sites throughout N. America, the Whale Sanctuary Project has settled on two potential sites in Nova Scotia.

The two potential sites for the proposed whale sanctuary (google maps)

Lori Marino, president of the project, is a neuroscientist who has studied whale and dolpin intelligence. She says the final site has to be of an acceptable depth of 15 metres, ice free in winter and average acceptable water temperature for the belugas, be protected from major storm surges, and other factors, such as appropriate current movement for flushing. The former marine park whales would then live out their lives, between 40 to 80 years, in a much more natural way.

Lori Marion, scientist and president of the U.S-based Whale Sanctuary Project (CBC News)

About 40 acres or 16 hectares would be screened off giving the whales plenty of room for natural activity. although raised in captivity they would not be able to survive in the wild..

It is planned that six to eight formerly captive whales would be transferred to the ocean site.

The Whale Sanctuary Project says it has the private funding to create the site, about $15 million for netting, and interpretive centre, vetinary facility, and non invasive viewing sites.

The group has held a number of meetings with locals in both potential sites, Port Hilford and Mushaboom to ensure they would agree with the project which would become an eco-tourist destination, donations would help pay for long-term maintenance.

Lori Marino in a 2016 presentation explaining the sanctuary project (YouTube)

At this point, while many locals agree, some lobster fishermen have expressed opposition as have other boaters who travel through the area. The Project seems to prefer Mushaboom, but for the moment there is greater local acceptance in the Port Hilford area.

Another local meeting near Mushaboom, will take place on December 16 to present the latest plans and get local feedback. Marino says the project can’t proceed without local approval.

It would not be the first such beluga sanctuary. That was created by the Sea Life Trust at a location in Iceland.

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