April 17, 2005 in Nation/World

Wayward whale in river may have name

Associated Press
 

TRENTON, N.J. – A wayward beluga whale delighting boaters on the Delaware River this week might already have a name.

Researchers in Canada believe the whale is one they have dubbed Helis (pronounced ay-LEE), derived from the French word helice, or propeller. Experts believe a scar on Helis came from a boat propeller.

U.S. officials keeping tabs on the beluga Saturday said Helis was looking good and they had no plans to try to examine it.

Jamison Smith, of the National Marine Fisheries Service, was reassured by the whale’s attempts to avoid the water patrol following it. “It’s a good sign, because it’s normal, adult beluga behavior,” he said.

Boaters were still urged to stay at least 150 feet from the whale and to reduce their speed when navigating between Burlington City and Trenton.

There’s no shortage of theories as to why a whale indigenous to North Atlantic waters ended up in a river 1,200 miles to the south. Some researchers think Helis may have followed schools of tasty fish into the Delaware River, then stayed after stumbling upon an abundance of herring and shad.

Belugas also sometimes head to fresh water to shed dead skin.

However, Robert Michaud, of the Group for Research and Education of Marine Mammals in Quebec, said he thinks Helis was drawn to the Delaware by old age. The whale is near the end of its 30- to 35-year life span and may have been driven from its pod by younger males, he said.

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