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Baby Beluga thriving at Alaska Sealife Center

Tyonek, the male beluga calf at the Alaska Sealife Center, is amazing to watch. Now that he is healthy and strong, he zooms around the outside pool, and dives 12′ to the bottom at the deep end. He can hold his breath for over six minutes; a visitor may think there is nothing in the pool unless they are patient and wait for the little whale to surface to grab another breath. Tyonek likes to hide under a blue floating mat, and push the floating pool thermometer with his snout. (42º today, much warmer than the 17º air!) He also likes to “wear” an orange hard hat, but it was not in sight today. While lounging upside down (good trick!) a big gust of wind slammed the water and he rocketed away in alarm. When his bottle is ready the staff person splashes the water and the baby whale swims right over. He readily opens his smiling mouth and sucks down the contents, holding his blow hole shut.. Then he pauses, opens his blowhole, takes a big breath, and drinks some more until the bottle is empty.

Tyonek is now approximately five months old. When he was rescued in September from the mudflats on the west side of Cook Inlet, he was less than a month old weighing 142 pounds. Now he weighs 240 pounds and is off all medications. Every four hours round the clock he is fed a marine mammal formula blended with fish. The intense effort from the dedicated and knowledgable staff  of the ASLC, and partners Georgia Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium, SeaWorld, Shedd Aquarium, and Vancouver Aquarium has resulted in Tyonek being the first rescued Cook Inlet beluga calf to survive.

NOAA Fisheries is responsible for determining the fate of this critically endangered species. Recently the agency determined that the calf is non-releasable. Tyonek needs to be bottle fed until he is about two years old,  is both socially and nutritionally dependent, and lacks the survival and socialization skills needed to survive in the wild. The calf will be moved to a permanent home at an approved facility in the US that has other beluga whales. That decision is expected in the coming weeks.

The Alaska Sealife Center offers free general admission to Alaska residents on Wednesdays through February 28; bring a valid ID. Membership allows free general admission for a year so you can come anytime they’re open. Donations are greatly appreciated to support care for this and other rescued animals.

Be sure to bring your family and friends to see Tyonek before he is moved to his forever home! Winter hours are noon to 5 pm. The whale is usually fed at noon and 4 pm-ish.

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Thanks to the ASLC and  NOAA for the information https://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/node/58109

Carol Griswold

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