Featured Image Credit: Alaska SeaLife Center Facebook
NOAA Fisheries announced last month that a male beluga whale calf being cared for at the Alaska SeaLife Center will not be able to be released to the while. The decision came after the Cook Inlet beluga whale, named Tyonek by the staff at ASLC, received 24/7 care for over three months. Tyonek was less than a month old when he was found stranded.
The Alaska SeaLife Center was assisted by partner aquariums such as Georgia Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium, SeaWorld, Shedd Aquarium, and Vancouver Aquarium. Thanks to their tireless efforts the beluga has become the first rescued Cook Inlet beluga to survive.
NOAA based the decision that he was not releasable on several factors: Tyonek is nutritionally and socially dependent on humans and lacks survival and socialization skills needed in the wild. He also suffered a collapsed lung, which could recur in the wild and threaten his life and limit his ability to dive.
The beluga whale calf will be placed in a US facility soon after a process to find that facility is followed. Once a decision is made, officials will work quickly to get Tyonek settled in his new home and integrated into a new social group to help him thrive.
Cook Inlet beluga whales are designated as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. NOAA Fisheries identified Cook Inlet beluga whales as one of eight endangered species in the nationwide Species in the Spotlight initiative. The initiative’s goal is to stabilize population declines and focus resources on species most at risk for extinction. NOAA scientists estimate that there are about 328 Cook Inlet beluga whales left.