Our Poco Story
Our experience with POCO was on June 26, 2004 off Cape Elizabeth, Maine. My wife and I were going snorkeling and as we approached the water a woman mentioned that a juvenile Beluga whale had been spotted and not to be alarmed should we encounter him as he was known to be friendly. I seem to recall thinking “fat chance” or otherwise discounting the likelihood of such an encounter as we made our way into the water.
Much to our surprise after about 20 minutes we made our way to the mouth of the cove and he appeared. Content to pass close and pause to gaze at us, we couldn’t resist a pat or two. He would wander into the deeper water for a moment and them come back. The scars of close encounters were evident but otherwise healed. He was a graceful and engaging creature, we knew than that this was one of those moments you remember for the rest of your life. Poco hung with us until we were well on our way back to shore and we left with the memory and in awe.
Getting back to the van this was clearly a moment that cell phones were invented for. Speaking with one of our daughters the first words from her mouth were “Take Me”. Later that day I returned with her expecting that Poco would have moved on. She knew there was no guarantee but was ready to test her luck. Her luck came into play when after about 20 minutes in the water something white emerged from below, at first it was a white foggy cloud but as he moved into the range of clear visibility there was Poco once more. LIke before he came to visit moving closely and gently.
We lost sight of Poco for a few minutes only to find him getting a belly rub from SCUBA divers perhaps 15 feet below. They surfaced and the four of us savored the moment as Poco worked the crowd, checking us all out. This encounter was seen frequently on local TV stations since the divers had a camcorder running the whole time. This time we had an underwater camera and managed to get a few good souvenir photos that we are sharing on this page.
Then and afterwards we wondered if we had done the right thing. No doubt Poco was not your typical Beluga. In the end we felt we let nature take its course, he came to us on his own terms, we did not hunt him. The many accounts of him seeking out people on the water leaves one to wonder if those encounters were his greatest joy.
Our family was saddened to hear that Poco had died on November 15, 2004 less than 6 months after our encounter. I have to admit that as the saga progressed my hopes of a happy ending were fading. In the end it seems he succumbed to natural causes, a lung infection. Those of us who got a glimpse into his world may wonder if it was partly due to a broken heart as friends to play with became harder to find in the autumn waters. I am comforted to know that his death does not seem to be from any malice by man. We are out of the water for the winter now but when we return in the spring there will be an empty spot in our hearts knowing that Poco will not be out there to appear when we least expect him.
Our Poco Pics
Each picture is a link to a larger version. Photos a may be saved for your personal enjoyment but may not be used for gain or redistributed without my specific permission.
Poco was a juvenile Beluga whale that came to play along the coast of New England for about a year. Belugas travel in pods of about 10 whales and are normally found in arctic and sub arctic waters rarely seen south of the St. Lawrence river. This little guy somehow got separated from his pod and found his way into our part of the world where he sought companionship, often human at every opportunity. The species is endangered with only 40,000 - 80,000 remaining. Scientist are unsure what causes these whales to occasionally wander off though theories range from global warming to noise pollution.
Poco came to be noticed in September of 2003 when he was sighted circling a barge near an aquaculture site close to Pocologan, New Brunswick and he came to be known as Poco. Over time reports began to mount of boaters and divers encountering the playful, inquisitive mammal. He especially liked to play in the rising stream of air bubbles from SCUBA divers. He was attracted to sound including those of boats and he had many scars from apparent propeller contact. The coast guard had more than 150 reported sightings ranging from Down East Maine to Cape Cod Massachusetts. Our Poco encounter is described on the left side of this page but from that day on Poco seemed to be ever present in the media. When we traveled to the Bar Harbor, Maine area in the summer of 2004 the local papers were full of stories of the unusual summer visitor that had recently stopped by. When we returned home we were forever hearing about the most recent sightings. He was something of a celebrity.
There have been other Beluga whales known to be sociable to humans but this one showed up in our world at this time. He enjoyed pushing dinghies around and even squirting giggling children with water. A belly rub from a SCUBA diver was always a treat. Many divers reported meeting up with him. One diver was accompanied for not just 1 but both dives he made that day. While we all knew he was a whale in the wild people could not avoid likening him to a dog, a circus performer or a mischievous child. Poco was 8-9 feet long and weighed an estimated 800 pounds. He was believed to be about 3 years old, adults often reach 25-30 years of age. He was light gray in color, not yet not yet the white of an adult.
About 14 months after he was first recognized, Poco was found dead Monday November 15, 2004 in South Portland, Maine's Mill Cove area. There was no sign of injury and an autopsy suggested a lung infection was the likely cause of his death. The local newspaper as well as others in the region featured updates as facts became available and the Sunday Paper ran a significant feature chronicling the adventures of Poco and the lives he touched. The newspaper even hosted a bulletin board where people could relate their experiences with Poco and share sentiments, it had many contributions and certainly many more viewings.