Charles Vinick will be walking the same red carpet as Brad Pitt next week at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
“I told them it’s too bad Brad won’t get any press,” said the executive director of the Whale Sanctuary Project with a laugh.
A five-minute film celebrating the proposed whale sanctuary will be shown twice at the festival.
A review copy seen by The Chronicle Herald does not get into specifics but does spend most of its brief run talking about orca whales, rather than the beluga whales the project’s proponent intends to actually house.
“There was more readily available footage of orcas,” said Vinick.
“So it was made that way. It happened to get this kind of acclaim and got accepted into the festival.”
The Whale Sanctuary Project was initially proposed to house both belugas and orcas that are retired from marine parks but shifted its focus to the species not colloquially called killer as it moved through the public consultation process. Vinick said Tuesday his group is still committed to housing five to eight beluga whales.
And that the focus remains on two Eastern Shore sites – one at Port Hilford (near Sherbrooke) and one at Mushaboom (near Sheet Harbour).
A decision on which site to pursue will be made within the coming months, said Vinick.
‘Perhaps sooner than that,’ he said.
Once a site is chosen the Whale Sanctuary Project will go through the province’s aquaculture regulatory process to get approval for a half-kilometre lease at one of the sites.
That process will require further rounds of public consultation on top of the six community meetings the group has already held in Sheet Harbour and four in Sherbrooke.
The goal remains, said Vinick, to have the facility built and have whales in it by the end of 2021.
The estimated capital cost for the netted half-kilometre enclosure, veterinary care building, lodging for staff and interpretive centre is $12 million to $15 million. Annual operating costs are expected to be around $2.5 million.
The Whale Sanctuary Project plans to cover all costs of the project through fundraising.
The site located between two islands in Mushaboom is known locally as the Gates.
It is physically preferable because outlying islands provide it with greater protection from storms, it is deeper and would require less netting.
“Though the Port Hilford site, given different ways of configuring it, would still work quite well,” said Vinick.
There has been more local opposition to the Mushaboom site. There are signs reading Save the Gates in a few driveways and a Facebook group opposed to the idea has 218 members.
Those in opposition point to the use of the Gates by fishermen and recreational boaters to transit between two harbours and their concerns about disrupting their quiet
The Whale Sanctuary Project has adjusted the design of its proposed facility to allow boats to still transit through the passage.
Support appears to be wider in the Sherbrooke area.
“We had 1,200 people come through and I can’t think of a single negative comment,” said Stephen Fleming of the beluga whale-themed displays at the Sherbrooke Historic Village’s Old Fashioned Christmas event.
They had Santa Claus in a scuba diving suit with a submarine pulled by eight seahorses.
There was a beluga whale-themed Night Before Christmas reading and colouring for children.
“The familiarity with beluga whales here goes back to Wilma,” said Flemming.
Wilma was a beluga whale who moved into Chedabucto Bay a few decades ago, drawing visitors from all over.