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North America's first whale sanctuary coming to Canada

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Plans have been announced to establish the first sanctuary in North America for captive whales retired from parks and aquariums.

Led by the Whale Sanctuary Project (WSP), the area in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, will be ready to receive its first cetaceans by the end of 2021. WSP will work with Sherbrooke and the Municipality of the District of St Mary’s to create a seaside sanctuary in Port Hilford on the eastern shore of the province.

According to WSP, Port Hilford offers an expansive area that can be netted off for the whales in a bay that’s open to the ocean but is sheltered from storms. It also has access to the necessary infrastructure and plenty of room along the shore for the facilities that will be needed to care for the animals. The plans will also feature an education and interpretive centre for visitors, as well as nature trails and viewing spots.

"Of the hundreds of locations that we’ve researched in British Columbia, Washington state and Nova Scotia, Port Hilford stands out as the premier location for a whale sanctuary," said Charles Vinick, WSP's executive director. "It’s an ideal location for whales coming from marine parks and aquariums."

The announcement comes following a decision by Canada's government in 2019, which signals an end to keeping captive whales and dolphins in the country. The next steps in working toward the creation of a sanctuary will be to work with local fishers and community members to initiate the regulatory processes needed to establish the site.

In addition to its east coast sanctuary, WSP is also looking to establish a second site on the west coast, likely in the Pacific Northwest.

"As important as the physical properties of the location are in deciding on a site location, we also knew that the relationship the sanctuary would have with its host community would be pivotal," said Vinick. "The Sherbrooke community has exceeded all our expectations."

This will be the second whale sanctuary to open in the world, following the launch of a whale sanctuary by Merlin Entertainments in June last year, which saw two beluga whales from the Chang Feng Ocean World aquarium in Shanghai retired to the marine sanctuary in Iceland.

At the time, Cathy Williamson, captivity campaign manager for Whale and Dolphin Conservation, expressed the hope "that our sanctuary project will provide a blueprint for the development of sanctuaries in other parts of the world".

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Plans have been announced to establish the first sanctuary in North America for captive whales retired from parks and aquariums.

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