Beluga Whale Calf Rescued by the Alaska SeaLife Center
Seward, AK (June 20, 2012) –
The Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) rescued a stranded male beluga whale calf from Bristol Bay on Monday, June 18. The solitary animal, estimated at two to three days old, was found near the Diamond O Cannery
in Naknek. The calf was first spotted after a large storm, and no other beluga whales were
observed in the immediate vicinity. The animal repeatedly returned to shore after being encouraged to return to the open ocean. It was picked up after rescuers called the Alaska SeaLife Center, who received authorization from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to attempt a rescue.
With support from Georgia Aquarium, three Alaska SeaLife Center staff flew on a Grant
Aviation aircraft from Seward to South Naknek airport to retrieve the calf.
“Grant Aviation delayed scheduled flights to enable this rescue to occur, and we thank them for their fast response and accommodation to the special needs of transporting a beluga whale,” said Tim Lebling, stranding coordinator.
While the Center was designed with pools capable of holding belugas, this calf is the first beluga whale to ever be housed at the Alaska SeaLife Center. When the 5-foot long calf was brought to the Center, it weighed 50 kilograms (110 pounds). The calf is currently being fed every two hours with a milk matrix created specifically for beluga calves, which contains all of the nutrients and calories the calf needs to grow.
“The calf is swimming on his own, cooperating with feedings, and breathing regularly, which are all very positive signs. However, there are tremendous hurdles ahead. Because this animal is extremely young, it is at a very high risk of complications,” said Dr. Carrie Goertz, staff veterinarian. Beluga whales exist in five distinct stocks in Alaska. This calf is from the Bristol Bay stock, a population that appears to be growing and is geographically distinct from the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale stock.
Coincidentally, ASLC recently launched a new exhibit on Beluga whales on World Ocean’s Day. The exhibit features details about a study that was done of the Cook Inlet whale populations, using a remote video camera, and a video with excerpts of an oral history project, detailing the experiences of those who recall Belugas and share their stories, both present and past, including a fisherman a biologist, and a native elder.