PORTLAND (AP) – Even the biologists who are urging the public to stay away from a beluga whale spotted along the coast of Maine admit the animal seems so friendly and fun that it is hard for people to leave it alone.

“This thing is so cute. It nuzzles up alongside,” said biologist Bob Bowman, who watched the three-year-old white whale spinning and pushing dinghies off Mount Desert Island. Bowman, who rescues stranded marine mammals for the Center for Coastal Studies, said the boaters getting the whale-propelled ride were amused and delighted.

But, Bowman added, “he is out of his habitat…he should be with others of his kind.”

The whale – which people have nicknamed Poco – was spotted in September in the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, then headed south, where it was reported near Gloucester, Mass. and in Boston Harbor. The beluga has recently been spotted in Biddeford, Cape Elizabeth, Friendship, Mount Desert Island and Rockland.

Paul Rollins, a diver who runs Rollins Scuba Associates in South Portland, photographed the ten-foot whale in late June off Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth.

“It comes up to you before you come up to it. It had its head under my arm, like it was saying Pat me, pat me,”‘ Rollins said.

But biologists and officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are urging people not to interact with the whale.

Even though the beluga whale seems to enjoy the attention, the less people do to encourage him to stick around, the better, NOAA’s Dana Hartley said.

“We’re asking people to respect that he is a wild animal, don’t encourage him to do all these actions, which he really seems to enjoy,” Hartley said.

She said biologists were happy to see the whale moving north, and officials hope it will return to its pod in the Saint Lawrence Estuary or the Arctic.

Belugas typically are found in Arctic and sub-arctic regions of Russia, Greenland and North America, but rarely seen on the East Coast.

Beluga are protected in the United States under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. The act established a moratorium on harassing, hunting or killing marine mammals in U.S. waters.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.