Beluhas of the White Sea

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Beluhas of the White Sea

October 13, 2011 - 23:21
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New Sea Farm Raises White Whales in the White Sea.

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In 2006, marine biologists from St Petersburg’s department of Utrishsky Dolphins’ Aquarium decided to initiate a scientific project to build a natural farm, or nursery, for the breeding of white whales—or beluhas, as they are called in Russia—on the White Sea. One of the main aims of the project was to decrease the number of white whales caught from the wild and to exchange them with animals born in natural sea nurseries like this one.

By the way, only two countries—Japan and Russia—continue to catch white whales. It takes a lot of experience and a high level of professional skill.

The second reason for building this new natural aquarium was to make a vacation place, or a spa, for polar cetacians, to bring white whales here from big cities and provide a temporary place for rehabilitaing them in a natural environment of the White Sea waters where they could regain strength, immunity and well-being.

Is it not inhumane to put wild animals and birds, living free and wild in nature, into cages? But on the other hand, poor, sick animals or babies lost from their parents, will die if they stay in the wild. That’s why these kinds of species (not prepared for life in the wild) have come into the care of some special human beings who provide nurseries for them.

This new generation of natural dolphin aquariums are not built to be circuses, but to provide a new approach to direct communication between humans and sea mammals.
At the end of January 2007, two young white whale males, named Filya and Semen, came to the White Sea as the first residents of the new natural aquarium. In the move, they came back to their home waters, albeit in an open-water cage, near a local dive center called the Polar Circle.

Six years ago, these two males (then aged four years old) were caught from this same White Sea area. They were taken to an aquarium in St Petersburg and trained to give performances on tours to Moscow, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. During this time, they were in very good and constant contact with people.

It was lucky that both of these dolphins were well-adapted to the human beings in their new home, which made for good contact with scientists, biologists and divers.

The white whales, or beluhas, played very well with everyone who came to the open-water cage. With swimmers, they were happy to take each for a spin, and nibbled feet and hands in a very friendly way. But divers made the whales a bit afraid. For a long time, the beluhas preferred to take just a quick look at the bubbling persons and then stayed well out of the way.

The whales enjoy freedivers who come to the dive center. One women was free diving with a monofin. The whales became very happy, perhaps thinking that some of these intelligent beings with arms can live in the water like they do. The four-meter-long whales stayed close with this free diving woman the whole time she was in the water.

A few months later in the summer, the whales started to take interest in scuba divers. They would approach divers who were cleaning the cage and tried to take some of the cleaning tools. They seemed to have stopped worrying about the bubbles coming from the divers’ air tanks.

One of the divers described the experience: “It was a sunny day in September. I was standing close to the open-water cage with the beluhas and was preparing to dive in. Just in front of me, a huge white dorsal ridge appeared and slowly went back below the surface of the water. I took a camera and went underwater. In the same moment, Semen bumped his wide forehead into me with a smile in his huge beluha mouth. And his friend, Filya, was trying to taste my strobe. Having made contact, I had become to the white whales a guest, and they started to play with me. I took pictures of the cheerful animals who looked to be really happy here in the natural dolphin aquarium on the Polar Circle of the White Sea. I used up my memory card and the air in my tank very quickly, but didn’t rush out of the water because I felt so lucky to see and be so close with these friendly animals.”

Special thanks to the Arctic Circle Dive Center staff for the great experience diving with white whales.

(...)

Originally published

on page 68

X-Ray Mag #27

December 13, 2008 - 19:09
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