SHERBROOKE — Despite the global pandemic, plans to make Port Hilford North America’s first public sanctuary for beluga whales “are advancing,” California-based project organizers confirm.
In a statement to the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s last week, Charles Vinick, executive director of the Whale Sanctuary Project (WSP), said the organization will launch a local Facebook page “in the next few days” and explore the area. opening of an information center on Sherbrooke’s main street to “create a dialogue”.
The news comes as the inexorable spread of COVID-19 – and the resulting public quarantines and social lockdowns – continues to derail economic initiatives across much of the world. “We are putting the structure in place to move forward as actively as possible,” Vinick said.
Stephen Flemming, managing director of the Sherbrooke Village Museum and a leading figure in the effort to establish a whale sanctuary in the area, said the project “is a bright spot for the community. Many are thrilled to be a part of this new initiative and look forward to the opportunity to get involved and help define what it might look like. Personally, I look forward to hearing all the great ideas from our community.
Vinick added, “We have started doing environmental scans of Port Hilford under the direction of our Nova Scotia research analyst, Dr. Amanda Babin. On Zoom, we meet with scientists and researchers from Nova Scotia to understand their questions and get their advice. We receive requests from many people offering their skills and assistance and we do our best to arrange initial meetings with them by phone and internet.
Since the onset of the pandemic, WSP officials have used traditional and social media to raise international awareness of Port Hilford’s key role in the project. Earlier this month, organization president Lori Marino, neuroscientist and behaviorist, told Marcia Sivek, host of BeProvided Conservation Radio, a San Francisco-area podcast, “Right off the bat, they (Port Hilford and Sherbrooke) were enthusiastic supporters and promoters. We couldn’t do this without them.
The popular “BeProvided” is broadcast by the New York-based iHeartRadio network, which describes itself as the “# 1 streaming radio platform with six times digital listening to the second-largest radio company in the world. commercial distribution “in the United States.
In his interview with Sivek, Marino said: “I also think that we have to send a special cry to the fishermen in the area who make their living there. They were great and they took us on their boats. They see the opportunity and they see the importance. And we’re working to make sure everything is right for them when we put this in Port Hilford. “
Marino added, “We designed or envisioned a site that would have maybe eight belugas and maybe two or three orcas if they became available – of course they would be separated. Our enclosure will be at least 300 times the size of the largest reservoir in any marine park. This will allow the animals not only to swim in a straight line, but also to swim as they wish and to travel to different corners of the sanctuary. “
The shrine will also be open to the general public, she said. “We will have an interpretation center on site. It won’t be the kind of thing where we have ticket sales or people flocking, though. “
In February, after spending three years combing through up to 100 locations in Washington, British Columbia and Nova Scotia, the WSP chose Port Hilford for both its combination of attributes physical and environmental (seabed conditions, tides and currents, and potential impacts of local fauna) and for its inhabitants.
Marino stressed that this combination is particularly important as the initiative is the first on the continent for whales removed from entertainment facilities or rescued from the ocean in need of rehabilitation or ongoing care. “What we can do is provide a model of transparency that can help others facilitate the creation of these kinds of sanctuaries around the world,” she said.
Tangible economic benefits for the Sherbrooke region are also probable. The WSP will cover the estimated $ 20 million cost of starting the facility and ongoing operating costs. In addition to a visitor center, nature trail, and viewing points, the sanctuary will work with schools and museums to provide educational programs on the sanctuary’s whales and their wild counterparts.
In his letter last week, Vinick said that while “some meetings may have to wait, in the interim – with our local leaders Stephen Flemming, Jamie Anderson, Amy Simon, so many others and in particular the fishermen – we can communicate with all of you. Please feel free to contact me. “