Bringing up an old one.
July 25, 1979 Wednesday
CHURCHILL, Man. - A chartered Hercules aircraft finally took off for San
Diego Aquarium from this port on Hudson Bay yesterday, carrying six
beluga whales and renewed respect for the intelligence of these sea
It took nine days to round up these famous Arctic white whales, even
though they appeared to be more plentiful than fish and even though an
experienced part-Eskimo whaleman, John Hickes, guided the live capture.
The beluga (Russian for white) seemed to mock their pursuers every
step of the way.
They are smarter than you and I, said Mr. Hickes, 35, who perfected
his rodeo-style technique of lassoing whales during tagging operations
for the federal Government. Since then, he has led captures for zoos in
Japan, West Germany and the United States.
On the first day of this year's aquatic adventures, Mr. Hickes and his
crew easily brought in four whales from the Churchill River estuary. But
trying to catch the required two more became more difficult as the days
went on. Whales playfully frolicked around the pursuing boats but always
eluded capture at the last minute.
At first, Mr. Hickes joked about the difficulties: They must have had
a meeting last night and the older whales told the young ones how to
But after a week of sunrise-to-sunset forays, frustrated and
exhausted, Mr. Hickes took his crew 85 kilometres north on Hudson Bay to
Seal River where I hope the whales haven't heard of us.
Apparently they had not, because the crew nabbed two females without
Mr. Hickes' capture techniques are somewhat spectacular and attract a
lot of attention in this northern grain-transport port of 1,200 people,
as well as the rest of Manitoba.
Four light 20-foot boats equipped with 35-horespower engines and an
operator who can turn on a seashell roar back and forth behind a beluga,
trying to persuade it to swim into shallow waters.
When they get the whale there, a boat manoeuvres alongside the animal
and a diver leaps into the water, attempting to secure a rope around the
whale's neck as it emerges for air. A second diver tries to lash the
Mr. Hickes' war wounds include concussions, rope burns, a broken
finger (this year), bruised arms and near-death when he became entangled
in a rope as a whale went spinning torpedo-style through the water.
Once caught (federal fisheries inspectors observe each step of the
procedure), the whale is secured to a canvas hammock and a blood sample
is taken from the tail to check for good health. On shore, 12 men are
required to lift the nine-foot, half-ton whales in the hammock and dump
them into holding tanks.
Mr. Hickes charges about $2,500 for each whale. In this expedition,
two males and four females, three or four years old, were caught for Sea
World, which has aquariums and mammal-research facilities in San Diego,
Orlando and Aurora, Ohio.
Of four whales caught here for Sea World in 1973, three are performing
underwater ballet stunts in San Diego and loving it, according to mammal
curator Jim Antrim. A fourth died of a parasitic infestation soon after
The white whale (which can grow up to 17 feet long and turns ghost
white at maturity) is found mainly in Arctic regions, but also in the St.
Lawrence estuary. The Canadian Government has banned hunting and killing
of the beluga except by Arctic inhabitants.
Mr. Hickes said the beluga sense the lack of danger. He said that
several years ago, when they were still being slaughtered, as soon as
they heard a boat engine, they were gone for the bay at full speed. Now
they know that boats and motors don't hurt them, so they just follow
boats around and give people a chance to see them.
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