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Lonely whale befriends Fundy divers & fishermen

BY CHRIS MORRIS
Canadian Press
November 27/03

   He's no Moby Dick, but a lonely baby beluga lost in the Bay of Fundy is garnering almost as much attention as he searches for companionship in the waters off the New Brunswick coast.
   The small white whale, known as Poco, is raising concerns among whale watchers because of his attempts to befriend commercial divers and lobster fishermen working the bay, which is unfamiliar territory for belugas.
   Cathy Kinsman of the Whale Stewardship Project, a non-profit research and protection group, said Wednesday there are fears the charming little whale could be harmed as he hangs around the aquaculture pens and lobster boats, a ghostly figure who often startles people when he approaches them.
   "The beluga takes them totally by surprise," Ms. Kinsman said. "One fellow told me he almost swallowed his (diving) regulator."
   She said Poco follows divers around once he finds them, peering into their face masks and rolling in the air bubbles rising from their gear.
   Ms. Kinsman said the divers and fishermen are not looking for the whale or going out of their way to pet him. Poco, she said, is seeking out their company.
   "He's so curious and interested in everything and anything going on," she said.
   A beluga is an extremely rare sight in the Bay of Fundy.
   Ms. Kinsman said she suspects Poco is from the beluga population in the St. Lawrence River, although it is possible he swam down from Arctic waters.
   The whale, last seen just a couple of days ago, has been in the bay since September. Ms. Kinsman said he is believed to be two or three years old and measures two to three metres in length.
   The Whale Stewardship Project specifically targets lost belugas, who are showing up with increasing frequency in the waters off Atlantic Canada.
   "There are more around than we anticipated when we started the program," Ms. Kinsman said. "We have our hands full with these lone beluga whales who are somehow becoming separated from their family groups and straying into areas of Atlantic Canada where they are not normally found."
   Ms. Kinsman said all of the whales tracked by the program have eventually disappeared. She does not know what happens to them.
   "Some have proven they can survive from year to year," she said. "Conceivably, this little guy could hang around for a while."
   Ms. Kinsman said she realizes Poco's story is sad and she expects it will strike a chord with people. She said belugas are intensely social animals with strong family bonds. Poco must feel the loss of his pod.
   "These whales in these situations where they are alone, people can get very emotional about it," Ms. Kinsman said.
   "I'm glad for that sense of compassion. We're trying to balance the compassion we have for the animal with what's best for him as an individual."
   Ms. Kinsman said any decision to try moving Poco, possibly relocating him to the St. Lawrence River, would have to be made by the federal Fisheries Department.
   She said the idea has been discussed, although it has been ruled out for now.
   "At this point, because he seems to be doing OK and travelling around, there are no plans to move him."
   Ms. Kinsman said capturing and moving a whale is very stressful for the animal.

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