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Researcher probing origin of lone N.L. beluga asks visitors to look, not touch

A young beluga whale.
A young beluga whale. The Canadian Press/HO-Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals, Levon Drover

A lone beluga whale has been attracting onlookers at a Newfoundland cove south of St. John’s as researchers work to trace the story of its origin.

Federal marine mammal researcher Jack Lawson said the young animal was first reported on July 20 at a Witless Bay wharf where tour operators station their boats.

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A skin biopsy taken from the whale will be used to compare it to other beluga populations.

Lawson, of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said the results may shed light on whether the solitary whale from an ordinarily social species came from the endangered St. Lawrence estuary population or from the Arctic.

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While the beluga is in the cove, Lawson is urging people to obey federal law and avoid touching or interacting with it.

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Photographed about 15 metres from shore, the young beluga appears to have lost its fear of people and vessels, which is a cause for concern according to Lawson. This sort of behaviour has resulted in the deaths of belugas that swam too close to boat propellers.