A whale of a story

·3 min read

PORT HILFORD – It seemed like the plot of a feel-good Hollywood blockbuster – small town in the middle of nowhere rallies behind a global cause, wins the admiration of an international group of passionate do-gooders, shows the world what can be done with pluck and good intentions, and becomes the home for stranded whales; once captive, now free. Roll credits.

Except, this movie actually happened. And for Sherbrooke’s Amy Simon, a community organizer and communications consultant for the U.S.-based Whale Sanctuary Project (WSP) – which will involve as many as six belugas rescued from marine captivity, it still is.

“In just a few short weeks it will be a year since the announcement was made that Port Hilford was the chosen site for the first whale sanctuary,” she says. “It’s been a challenging year, but definitely exciting as we move forward in this process.”

The process, to be precise, is complicated – more so thanks to the global pandemic, which limits organizers’ ability to conduct their work in the area up close and personally. And much remains to be done. While sequestered in a Halifax hotel in October, running down the clock on his two-week quarantine after arriving from California, WSP Executive Director Charles Vinick talked about the environmental work underway and the permitting process with the provincial government also underway. Plus, there were the ongoing discussions with fishers, First Nations, and other members of the Port Hilford community.

“At least now I’m in the same time zone,” Vinick said. “My phone is registered with both federal and provincial governments.”

Says Simon: “Shortly after the announcement that COVID-19 struck we were all put on lockdown. However, a lot of the environmental studies were able to move forward. We were able to hold some events following COVID protocols such as our WSP family day camp and we took part in the community Halloween celebration. We were able to have an open house and a community meeting following all COVID protocols.”

As for next year, Simon says: “In 2021, I’m hopeful that COVID may give us a break and more of the team will be able to be here with us. We are hoping to have the welcome centre open in the near future, which is exciting. [It’ll be] a physical location where everyone can go for the most up-to-date information.”

Personally, she says, “I’m looking forward to being able to continue to spread the word about the WSP, the work that is being done, and how it all came to be. Our story of how science and community came together is powerful. Being a part of this project is my passion and educating others and spreading the word is something I really enjoy. Sharing that excitement with locals who are equally excited and wanting to get involved is truly special. 2021 will be an exciting year as we move closer to welcoming our first residents at the Whale Sanctuary in Port Hilford.”

That could happen as early as 2022. Roll credits, indeed.

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal