Baby Beluga preparing for 4000 mile trip

A  colorful pod of humans clad in chest waders descended on Tyonek’s outdoor pool this morning. Many hands helped to cradle the baby beluga while the vet drew blood samples from his fluke and performed a sonogram. Then the baby beluga was scooped up in a specialized sling with openings for his two front flippers. Seven people lugged the more than 280 pound whale up the temporary stairs and inside the facility where he disappeared from view.

I thought this was it; my last view of this remarkable, adorable whale. I felt sad to see him go, but glad he would be with other belugas including two calves. Luckily, a staff member happened along who told me this was just practice. As much as possible, the staff is trying to condition Tyonek for his 4000 mile trip, including warming up the water, practicing transport by sling, and getting familiar with SeaWorld San Antonio staff.

After about a half hour, yay! Back he came, riding quietly in the sling. Nine people eased him down the stairs and gently released him back in the pool. Still surrounded by people and loving hands, he drank from his bottle. After his humans left, he cruised around the pool.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service  (NMFS) has not yet announced the date of departure, but it seems to be soon. According to the SeaWorld San Antonio website, the endangered beluga calf will travel in a “transport unit,” a very large tank with temperature-controlled water, by truck to Anchorage and then fly in a chartered plane non-stop to Texas. Several caretakers and a vet will ride with him to ensure his comfort and safety.

The Alaska Sealife Center is open from 10 am to 5 pm daily. Time is running out to say goodbye to Tyonek!


Carol Griswold





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