By Richard Bell
Proponents of establishing an in-saltwater sanctuary for beluga whales ran into strongly-worded vocal opposition at a public meeting in Sheet Harbour on December 16, 2019, Opponents of the project from Mushaboom were out in force, with at least one warning of violence if the project were to go ahead.
For more than a year, representatives of the Whale Sanctuary Project have been scouting the waters of Nova Scotia looking for a suitable site for netting off a large area to be used as a sanctuary for up to 8 beluga whales currently living in tanks in aquatic parks like the one in Niagara Falls housing 50 belugas in 2 tanks.
On December 16, the WSP held a public meeting at the Legion in Sheet Harbour to discuss why they believed that an area off Mushaboom had all the features they were looking for. The area, The Gates, lies between Malagash Island on the north and East and West Gibbs islands on the south.
Executive director Charles Vinick and president Lori Marino kicked things off with a review of the history of their research in Nova Scotia and on the West Coast for a suitable home for the whales, and talked at length about what they had learned along the way, and the many changes and modifications they had made in their plans based on feedback from previous public meetings.
When the floor opened up, opponents from Mushaboom dominated the first part of the more than two-hour long meeting, holding up an 8x11 poster opposing the site.
The most dramatic remarks came from Adam Walters, who said that his family had owned land for generations within a few hundred meters of The Gates. He highlighted the contrast between opponents and supporters: “I’m going to give you a little geography lesson because from reading your interviews, it’s clearly not your strong suit. The Gates are not in Sheet Harbour, The Gates are in Mushaboom. [applause] We’re tired of having the voices of Mushaboom ignored in the media. You have significant support in Sheet Harbour, but you do not have significant support in Mushaboom.”
Walters then emphasized the intensity of opposition: “You have strong opposition that is going to do anything to keep you out, legal or otherwise. It is true. Are you willing to depend on support from 15KM away when you have people that have a strong opposition within meters of your operation, people who know every square inch of those islands? Because if you think that we’re going to let you come into our home and destroy our island and our way of life, you’re out of your mind.”
People did speak in support of the project, and based solely on the level of applause, there were more supporters than opponents in the room. Vinick and Marino, with help from moderator Peter Stein, attempted to answer questions, including several dealing with the obscure nature of the effectiveness of beluga whale contraception, and the potential negative impact of the residues of such contraceptive drugs in “whale poop” on lobsters and fish.
The Project has also been looking at another site on the Eastern Shore off Sherbrook, where the community has been welcoming. At the end of the Legion meeting, Vinick suggested holding a smaller meeting with a group from Mushaboom, and asked people who were interested to email him. In the meantime, he said they would continue to consider other sites, but that they expected to make a decision in the near future.