In 1993, Chedabucto Bay had an oceanic resident just off the shore of Guysborough – her name was Wilma.
Twenty-six years later townspeople are excited about the opportunity to, once again, have belugas in the bay, thanks to the Whale Sanctuary Project.
The U.S. based charity is scouting for a home for the whales off the coast of Nova Scotia, and Chedabucto Bay is one of the many locations that are under consideration
Over the next week, the charity is touring the province in hopes of finding a location to house five to eight belugas that have been rescued from marine entertainment facilities for rehabilitation.
Guysborough local Paul Long thinks that Chedabucto Bay would be the ideal place to house the whales.
“The harbour is filled with mackerel and herring. That’s probably what brought Wilma here all those years ago,” he said.
Wilma was two years old when she swam into the bay and became a local celebrity. According to Long, she could often be seen swimming alongside boats or popping her head out of the water for a pat.
She remained in the harbour for six years, until the spring of 1999, when she mysteriously disappeared. Many residents believe she was captured and sold to an entertainment company due to her fun and social personality.
Like many others, Long grew a relationship with Wilma as he interacted with her from time to time.
“I had a small aluminum boat that I would take out onto the water, and some days I couldn’t even get it started because she’d be right there for a visit,” said Long.
“Most people loved her. The fishermen didn’t like her too much, but she brought in a lot of tourists and really became a member of the community.”
The $10-20 million fund-raised project would involve netting off a 40-hectare seaside area to house the whales.
Lori Marino, project organizer and president of the Whale Sanctuary Project, said Nova Scotia would be an ideal site to house the belugas.
“Nova Scotia has a beautiful coast. It happens to fit really well with the environmental needs of beluga whales, which was our number one priority,” she said.
In addition to locations in Nova Scotia, the group is looking at spots off the coast of British Columbia and Washington state.
Currently, the Whale Sanctuary Project is hosting consultations to see which communities would be willing to partner with the foundation.
“We’re not looking for anyone to pay for anything. That will be 100 per cent covered by the money that we fundraise,” said Marino.
The sanctuary would also provide employment and educational opportunities to locals, she said.
“We’re just looking for them to give us the space, nothing else,” said Marino.
Glen Avery of the Guysborough Waterfront Development Society said the community would be excited to have belugas back in the bay, as they are a safe distance from the harbour.
“Wilma was often getting hurt because of the boats in the area, so I wouldn’t want them to be too close to the city. As long as it’s done right, we’d be thrilled to have them,” he said. “They’re such lovely animals, having a beluga once brought in a lot of people, who says it can’t again.”