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North America's First Sanctuary For Rescued Whales

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Non-profit conservation organization The Whale Sanctuary Project (WSP) has officially opened its visitor and operations center in Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia—marking the beginning of its plan to open North America’s first seaside sanctuary for whales rescued or retired from a life of captivity. The recent grand opening celebration hosted more than 100 people and several government officials, including Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Arthur LeBlanc.

“Today was the successful grand opening of our Sanctuary Operations Center in Port Hilford, Nova Scotia,” the WSP posted on Instagram. “We were there to celebrate this major milestone in our project and the next step in achieving our goal of creating the first seaside sanctuary for belugas and orcas in North America.”

The planned 40-hectare sanctuary is expected to be built next year in a bay that’s open to the North Atlantic Ocean near Port Hilford, NS, a 20-minute drive from the visitor center. It will span about 50 football fields—which is approximately 300 times larger than the biggest captive whale tank in any marine park—and is designed to accommodate up to eight whales. 

The sanctuary will allow the whales to live out their lives in their natural habitat with enough room to engage in their natural behaviors, albeit in a protected area that is enclosed with underwater nets. Because captive whales have spent their lives in a tank, they cannot return to the open ocean due to their lack of survival skills. The sanctuary will keep them safe and well-protected from rough weather, and a hydrodynamic study has shown that the bay is regularly flushed by currents and tides so any buildup of whale waste will be washed away.  

Last year, the WSP announced plans to build the sanctuary, following the passing of Canada’s Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act, which prohibits the wild capture, captivity, and breeding of whales, dolphins, and porpoises, effectively ending the practice of exploiting cetaceans for entertainment. Under the law—which took more than three years to pass due to delays and obstructions—there are exceptions for rescue and rehabilitation to ensure whales and dolphins can get aid if they need it, and allows animal sanctuaries in Canada to care for cetaceans if it is in the animals’ best interests. 

To help house these animals, toy company Munchkin provided the initial funding necessary for determining the appropriate site for the WSP sanctuary, a lengthy process that took into consideration factors such as water and tide conditions and the whales’ potential impact on local wildlife. The WSP group has started a campaign to raise up to $20 million for the project, which also includes a veterinary clinic and interpretation center near the refuge. Another $2 million will be needed annually for operations. If the necessary permits are acquired in time, the refuge hopes to welcome its first whales in early 2023.




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