Bye-bye, beluga? 'Celebrity' whale leaves mark on small P.E.I. community

·3 min read
Bye-bye, beluga? 'Celebrity' whale leaves mark on small P.E.I. community
The Marine Animal Response Society believes the beluga in the Hillsborough River near Mount Stewart could be a 'vagrant' member of an endangered population in the St. Lawrence estuary. (Danny Arsenault/CBC - image credit)
The Marine Animal Response Society believes the beluga in the Hillsborough River near Mount Stewart could be a 'vagrant' member of an endangered population in the St. Lawrence estuary. (Danny Arsenault/CBC - image credit)

A beluga that made a splash in the community of Mount Stewart, P.E.I., for the past four weeks appears to have headed back to sea, leaving residents with happy memories and local businesses with a boost in sales at a time when both were much appreciated.

The whale has not been seen since Sunday after being spotted regularly in the Hillsborough River since mid-May, several people have told CBC News.

During its time chasing fish near the community bridge, the seemingly playful white animal attracted crowds from all over the Island hoping to catch a glimpse of it. Police were on the scene several times to make sure cars were not blocking traffic and people were adhering to COVID-19 distancing measures.

Bonnie MacLeod, manager of the Irving gas station in Mount Stewart, said the "celebrity" beluga has been the talk of the town.

"Everybody thought it was a really neat thing. And I think maybe, too, because the last year and a half there hasn't been a whole lot to look forward to ... like, we've been home, can't do anything, then all of a sudden this whale shows up in Mount Stewart and it's like, 'Oh my God, let's get out of the house to go do something. Let's go for a drive to Mount Stewart.'"

Everybody thought it was a really neat thing... the last year and a half there hasn't been a whole lot to look forward to. — Bonnie MacLeod

The increase in traffic meant an increase in business for some local merchants. MacLeod said she noticed a big jump in sales for gas and snacks from the convenience store. The customers all wanted to talk about the whale.

"People would stop in, they would want to know how old he was. 'Is it a boy or girl? How long is he staying?' And it's like, you know, 'I really don't know the answers to those questions yet,' but I mean, they just wanted to know."

A local bakery called In the Mix has been selling out of beluga-themed cookies and cupcakes.

And Wally Steele, owner of Laurie's Country Kitchen, said he's had to turn some customers away because it got so busy at times.

"It helped every business in the area," he said. "You get that amount of people pouring into the community, it's going to make a difference."

Steele said he's sad to see the whale go, but noted that the sightseeing its appearance sparked helped bridge the gap in business until the province can reopen its borders to other Atlantic Canadians on June 27.

Bonnie MacLeod, manager of the Mount Stewart Irving, says people have been dropping into the gas station with plenty of questions about the beluga.
Bonnie MacLeod, manager of the Mount Stewart Irving, says people have been dropping into the gas station with plenty of questions about the beluga.(Bonnie MacLeod)

"We couldn't keep it here all summer," he said with a laugh. "It is what it is. He eventually had to go back out to sea."

Some on social media have expressed concern for the whale's well-being, having spent so long in the relatively shallow tidal estuary, but MacLeod thinks it simply returned to sea safely when the supply of smelt or gaspereau dwindled.

"He's probably gone back and will rejoin the pod. I have no doubt that that's where he is," MacLeod said.

"It put Mount Stewart on the map for a month, anyway."

Wally Steele, owner of Laurie's Country Kitchen, says business has increased during the whale's stay.
Wally Steele, owner of Laurie's Country Kitchen, says business has increased during the whale's stay.(Laurie's Country Kitchen/Facebook)

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