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A U.S.-based animal protection group is touring coastal Nova Scotia communities in hopes of finding one interested in becoming a retirement home for whales and dolphins raised in captivity.
The Whale Sanctuary Project says it is holding public information meetings in Dartmouth, Liverpool, Port Hawkesbury, Sherbrooke and Sheet Harbour to identify a possible seaside sanctuary for beluga whales freed from entertainment parks.
The group's executive director, Charles Vinick, says the selected community could see jobs and economic benefits with the creation of an education centre and the need to purchase tons of frozen fish to feed the whales.
The organization says it is looking for a 40-hectare area along the Atlantic shore of Nova Scotia "that can become a home to whales who are retired from entertainment facilities or are injured and need rehabilitation within a netted-off area."
The group estimates it would cost about $20 million to create the sanctuary, along with costs with the long-term care of the animals.
It would be one of only a few such sanctuaries in the world for the marine mammals.
"Most of them have never learned survival skills, so they cannot be released into the open ocean," Vinick said in a statement. "But a seaside sanctuary will give them a chance to thrive in a stimulating natural ecosystem."
He said the community discussions will provide an explanation as to what a sanctuary would look like and will address concerns about potential environmental and fisheries impacts.
The first meeting is being held Thursday in Dartmouth.
"We realize that people have questions and concerns about such a novel project," Vinick said. "We share these concerns and we want to work with everyone to figure out whether a sanctuary is a good fit for your community."
Nova Scotia's southwest coast was shortlisted as a potential site after the group began looking at areas across North America two years ago to establish a large seaside enclosure.
The list of potential sites was then narrowed to Nova Scotia and Washington state, with a couple sites in British Columbia as backup options.
According to the Change For Animals Foundation, there are at least 2,300 cetaceans in captivity worldwide, including about 2,000 dolphins, 200 beluga whales and 53 orcas, which are otherwise known as killer whales.
But those numbers are expected to drop in the years ahead, particularly in North America.
The Vancouver Aquarium has said it would no longer keep whales and dolphins in captivity, saying the heated public debate over the issue was getting in the way of its conservation work.