Whale Sanctuary boss willing captive to his cause

·4 min read

HALIFAX – Charles Vinick, the peripatetic executive director of the Whale Sanctuary Project, has scrambled up and down countless rocky coasts all over the world pursuing his passionate commitment to the wellbeing of captive whales.

Now, sequestered in a hotel somewhere in Halifax, where he’s running down the clock on a mandatory two-week stint in quarantine, he can’t help but compare himself to Steve McQueen in that Hollywood blockbuster from the 1970s, “The Great Escape.”

“You know that scene where [Steve] McQueen gets thrown into solitary confinement?” Vinick said in a phone interview when reached over the weekend. “He has a baseball glove and a ball, and he keeps throwing the ball against the far wall, and it keeps bouncing back into his glove. You know that scene? Yeah, well, it’s kind of like that.”

He’s kidding, of course. He says the suite where he’s been staying since Oct. 25 is quite nice: “I’m okay.… I can get delivery from the grocery store.… I am able to cook.… I’m a big walker and exercise person, so they brought me a couple of dumbbells and an exercise mat. But, you know, you can only walk around your bed so often.”

It’s all for a good cause. Vinick is pursuing what is likely the most important cause of his life – getting North America’s first wild refuge for belugas up and running in Port Hilford, on time and on budget. After seven months of working the phones and video chat lines, he’s decided it’s time to get back into the real world – with boots on the ground – and push the whole complex, promising and hopeful venture forward up close and personal. Or, at least, as up close and personal as a global pandemic will allow.

“We need to understand people’s questions, get their advice, have a dialogue,” he said.

“It’s been my experience over these past months that those kinds of meetings don’t function well with video and all the technology that we are using. Meetings really need to be person-to-person. I feel that we are at a point where we really need to move this part of it forward, because we’re now going to be talking about where we will actually place the nets, where our infrastructure could be. We’re at the point where we all collectively must understand each other and where we are going together.”

That’s why, he said, “I felt spending two weeks in quarantine was basically a small but necessary step, if it enables me to have some more meetings with people right here in Nova Scotia, in Port Hilford.”

There’s still plenty to do before the sanctuary – which was announced for the St. Mary’s community earlier this year after a long site selection process that involved several spots around the United States and Canada – is ready to host as many as six belugas rescued from marine captivity sometime in the next year or so. There’s the environmental work, now underway. There’s the permitting process with the provincial government (also underway). There’s ongoing work with fishers and other members of the Port Hilford area. There are discussions with First Nations.

“At least now I’m in the same time zone, and in a week I’ll be able to go out and meet people,” Vinick said.

In all of this, he has only positive things to say about Canada’s and Nova Scotia’s approach to the global pandemic.

“It’s far more inclusive and empowering than anything we’re doing to the south in the United States,” he said. “My phone is registered with both federal and provincial governments. They call me randomly to see how I’m doing. It’s very impressive; the way that it’s being monitored and handled here.”

As for what he plans to do the moment he’s cleared, he said, “Well, you don’t spend two weeks in quarantine and go home three days later. So, I’m definitely looking to be here through November and then we’ll see. I’m prepared to be here as long as being here is productive in moving things forward.”

Until then, happily plotting the future is not a bad way to spend the time – at least until he makes his ‘great escape’ from captivity.

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal