Wilma the Friendly Baby Beluga

February 2, 2017 Toni Frohoff

It was like a fairy tale: the story of a beluga whale who befriended the humans of a small, rural seaside community in Nova Scotia. The beluga was young, not even three years old when first spotted by people. Probably she had recently lost her mother. A rumor circulated that a dead adult beluga with a bullet hole had washed ashore before the younger appeared. This “baby” beluga seemed eager for the companionship of others… even if they were only humans. Wilma, as the locals called her, approached people on watercraft, whether small dinghies, small or large fishing vessels, or recreational boats. She often spy-hopped (raised her head out of the water) and gradually allowed (and later encouraged!) people to touch the smooth, grayish white skin along her head and back. Perhaps most of all, children delighted in seeing her; and they sometimes came out in boats by the dozen. They lined up along the side of the boat as Wilma approached; with little hands, they reached over the gunwales, stretching their quivering fingers toward the water in hopes that this magical creature would swim near enough to allow them a chance to touch her.

 

She often accompanied swimmers and, if they didn’t touch her, sometimes touched them with her flippers, often to the swimmer’s surprise!

 

¬†As the years progressed, and on days that were warm enough, people entered the water to swim with Wilma. She often accompanied swimmers and, if they didn’t touch her, sometimes touched them with her flippers, often to the swimmer’s surprise! This is how I came to meet a wild beluga and how my colleague Cathy Kinsman and I came to know her over the almost seven years that she interacted with this community. Our study of Wilma was the first ever conducted on a solitary, sociable beluga, and it was a unique opportunity for two very different species to learn about each other. Cathy and I observed many thinks about the behavior and communication of belugas that we would never have seen by studying them in larger groups in the wild or in captivity. This was only one of the many places where we have seen science and mythology overlap in the study of dolphin-human interactions.

 

Excerpted from Dolphin Mysteries by Toni Frohoff and Kathleen M. Dudzinski, page 116-117.

Photo credit National Geographic.