Posted by: The ocean update | June 16, 2017

Baby beluga in the deep blue … St. Lawrence River (New Brunswick – Quebec, Canada)

The whale rescue went swimmingly for experts in both New Brunswick and Quebec. (Radio-Canada)

June 16th, 2017 (Elisabeth Fraser). Little white whale on the go from Nepisiguit River to St. Lawrence River in Quebec.

A beluga whale rescued from the northern New Brunswick river where it was trapped for two weeks has met up with a group of juvenile belugas off the coast of Cacouna, Que., which experts are calling an “ideal group.”

Scientists and other wildlife experts used a hoop net, a stretcher and an inflatable mattress to capture the whale, which took about  2½-hours Thursday.

“He’s back into his natural life, natural environment and continues to help the population grow,” said Tonya Wimmer, director of the Marine Animal Response Society, who took part in the rescue.

The whale, a male between two and four years old, was later airlifted to Quebec from Bathurst, N.B. Experts say the animal stayed in pretty stable condition during the transport.

Wimmer said the beluga released at around 5 p.m. Thursday, near the Cacouna region of the St. Lawrence River near Rivière-du-Loup, about 200 kilometres northeast of Quebec City.

“It was a pretty wonderful feeling,” she said.

The whale was released into one of the core habitats for beluga whales, an endangered species.

“Last we saw, he was with three other juvenile whales,” said Robert Michaud, a marine biologist and scientific director for the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals in Quebec.

“This population is severely endangered. We’re holding our breath.”

Safety in numbers

Scientists also added a satellite transmitter to the whale, which will allow them to locate the mammal’s whereabouts, she said.

Belugas are extremely social creatures, so the rescued whale has a good chance of staying with a new pod, she said, although experts don’t know for certain.

“These are wild animals and sometimes they have preference for who they hang out with … sometimes they survive on their own.”

With the current and high tide, Wimmer said the rescue mission was a challenge. The team of about 30 people wanted to minimize the whale’s stress as much as possible, and the operation took days of planning.

“The biggest thing was really convincing the animal to go where it needed to go,” she said.

Veterinarians were on scene to care for the whale, and three local fire departments stood by in case scientists needed a hand carrying the animal out of the water.

It was remarkable to have dozens of people come together from all over Canada and the United States to rescue the whale, Wimmer said.

“We knew we had to have a bit of a toolbox in terms of the kinds of things we could try,” she said.

‘Every animal counts’

This was the first time a rescue mission like this has ever taken place, and Wimmer said it was important to see if it could even be done.

Although a lot of effort went into one rescue, she said the mission was crucial to the whale’s well-being. If the animal had stayed in the New Brunswick river, it would not have survived.

And because belugas are endangered, the rescue was important.

“In that sense, every animal counts,” she said.

Wimmer said the whale was weak by the end of its rescue and its two-week stint in the Nepisiguit River.

“It had been through quite and ordeal with an awful lot of other bodies suddenly around it and picking it up and moving it to a place it would never ever go, especially in terms of flying,” she said.

But she’s hopeful the whale will soon regain its strength.

“It’s a matter of having him reintegrated,” she said. “We need as many numbers as possible.”

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