Stranded beluga calf transported by air to SeaLife Center
The Alaska SeaLife center added a new member to the family over the weekend -- a male beluga calf that was found stranded in Cook Inlet.
The beluga calf was seen late Saturday near Trading Bay in western Cook Inlet, Alaska SeaLife spokesperson Nancy Deel wrote in a release Tuesday.
"The calf was first spotted from a helicopter by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement (NOAA OLE) Enforcement Officer and Department of Public Safety / Alaska Wildlife Troopers Pilot returning from a patrol in trooper helicopter “Helo 3.” No adult belugas were seen in the area. Under authorization from NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (MMHSRP), the NOAA enforcement officer and the Alaska Wildlife Troopers pilot attempted unsuccessfully to encourage the animal back in the water," Deel said.
A veterinarian from the SeaLife Center was sent to the area to assess the condition of the whale, and it was determined the beluga needed to be transported to the SeaLife Center in Seward for rehabilitation.
“The calf appeared to have been stranded for several hours and was in a weakened condition; without evidence of major physical trauma. He is able to swim on his own and is breathing regularly, which are very positive signs. However, there are tremendous hurdles ahead. Because this animal is extremely young, there is a high risk of complications,” said Dr. Carrie Goertz, DVM, ASLC Director of Animal Health.
Teamwork and a plane with some extra space are what helped get the calf transported safely.
“The rescue and recovery of this animal would not have been possible without the support of the Alaska Wildlife Troopers aviation section pilot,” said NOAA Law Enforcement Officer Noah Meisenheimer. “He was willing to re-configure space on the aircraft to accommodate the beluga calf, and once on the ground in the Department of Public Safety hangar at Lake Hood, we were able to keep water on the calf inside the hangar until the Alaska SeaLife Center transport team arrived.”
The SeaLife Center says the beluga calf weighed 142 pounds and was 64 inches long when it was brought in. They believe he is two to four weeks old. Currently, the calf is being fed every two hours with an electrolyte solution and dilute formula, the SeaLife center says.
There are five distinct populations of beluga whales that exist in Alaska. The SeaLife Center says the beluga calf comes from the Cook Inlet population which is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.