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UPDATED: Belugas hanging out in Newfoundland harbours

Kayaking tours in Hatchet Cove had a special guest participating in their activities. A baby beluga whale — nicknamed by the residents Sammy Beluga — first appeared in the harbour in early July and remained there into mid-August before moving on.
Kayaking tours in Hatchet Cove had a special guest participating in their activities. A baby beluga whale — nicknamed by the residents Sammy Beluga — first appeared in the harbour in early July and remained there into mid-August before moving on. - Facebook Photo

Young whales frequenting Witless Bay, Hatchet Cove

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

It has been a busy summer for people to go out and whale watch.

But this season has had a different feel to it as the communities of Witless Bay and Hatchett Cove had a special addition to the activity.

In both harbours, they have a whale of a story to tell as small beluga whales became attached to the locations.

In Witless Bay, the baby beluga was adopted by a small inflatable craft in the harbour near Ecotours Zodiac Adventures.

A baby beluga whale was first spotted in Witless Bay around mid-July.
A baby beluga whale was first spotted in Witless Bay around mid-July.

Why it is there is unknown, but it appears the boat has become its surrogate mother.

In White Bay a beluga whale affixed itself to the waters there, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' Jack Lawson, a research scientist in marine mammals.

“These sightings are always of interest to us,’’ Lawson said.

“Adult belugas are usually seen from White Bay to St. Anthony, but not usually on the south coast of Newfoundland,’’ he added.

Lawson said they were alerted about the whale in Witless Bay in mid-July and they went out and took a pencil-sized skin sample to determine a number of things about the mammal, including its sex. This sample has not yet been sent away for testing, but as Lawson’s work wraps up this season, it will be sent for examination and identification.

He said it is rare for an animal of this age, which he estimated to be around two years, to be separated from its pod.

“They are social creatures and tend to stay close to their group. In this case, perhaps the mother got sick and died. We are always afraid they will get struck by a vessel,” he said.

“Even with the new regulations in place to stay 100 metres away, that is not always possible.”

Another beluga whale sighting this summer happened in Hatchet Cove.

Darlene and Neville Smith, owners of the Painted Fish B&B in Hatchet Cove, first noticed the baby beluga in their harbour around the first of July.

A baby Beluga, about five to six feet long, was spotted in Hatchet Cove around the first of July.
A baby Beluga, about five to six feet long, was spotted in Hatchet Cove around the first of July.

“We offer kayaking tours from here and one day we were getting ready to go with a group and there it was,’’ Darlene said.

“We thought he got separated from his pod or that he was hurt, so we called DFO. To date, nobody from there came to check on him (that they were aware of). And now for the past few weeks, he is gone, perhaps moved on to Queen’s Cove or North West Brook,’’ she added.

A report that was emailed to The Telegram on Thursday morning said the Hatchet Cove beluga was still seen at the wharf in North West Brook as of Wednesday evening.

They became so attached to the whale, they gave it a nickname — Sammy Beluga — as it regularly interacted with the kayakers and the people who came down to the dock to see it, and would put on a show for the spectators.

The whale was not huge by North Atlantic standards, measuring five to six feet in length.

Smith said that 30 or 40 years ago, the whales often came into Hatchet Cove in pod herds, but that hasn’t happened in years.

In fact, through her research on the internet, she said, they are supposed to leave in late August or early September to go up north for the winter, as that is their breeding ground.

Lawson said DFO recommends that people maintain their distance from these whales as a means of protecting them.

“We don’t do anything with the intent of moving the whale. It is dangerous for us to move it,’’ he said of the Witless Bay whale.

“Luckily for us, two days ago it moved on.’’

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