Georgia Aquarium experts help care for orphaned beluga whale

By: Nelson Hicks

Updated:

SEWARD, Alaska - Two beluga whale experts from the Georgia Aquarium are in Alaska trying to help an orphaned calf.

The four-week old beluga whale calf was rescued from Cook Inlet, Alaska and taken to the Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) in Seward, Alaska on Sept. 30. Georgia Aquarium staff immediately answered the call sent out by ASLC for beluga whale experts to help with the constant and vital 24-hour-a-day care. Assistance is also hailing from partner facilities: Vancouver Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium, SeaWorld, and Mystic Aquarium.

Found alone and in distress near Trading Bay in Western Cook Inlet, the calf was transported to the Alaska SeaLife Center. The calf, a male, is a member of the critically endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale population, which has declined to approximately 328 individuals left in the wild. He is under 24-hour monitoring and support, and receiving veterinary treatment and ongoing assessment.

“This calf is still receiving critical, around-the-clock care and we are proud to assist our partner institutions any time an animal is in need,” said vice president of zoological operations at Georgia Aquarium, Eric Gaglione. “We’re all committed to the animals in our care at our respective facilities, but we’re also committed to the wild populations of the animals in our ocean. Any time we can help these populations, whether it’s a beluga whale calf, a dolphin disentanglement, or a turtle rescue, our goal is to help the preservation of this species.”

Veterinarians and marine mammal husbandry experts from these accredited institutions are in the water taking shifts to care for the calf, working closely with the Center’s team to ensure the animal has the very best chance at surviving. The veterinarians and marine mammal experts at these facilities bring decades of hands-on experience caring for, studying, and transferring knowledge about beluga whales, including this critically endangered population. Georgia Aquarium operates its Georgia Aquarium Conservation Field Station in Marineland, Florida that responds to dolphins and small whales in distress or entangled in debris.

“As Alaska’s only marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation center, our team of experts are responsible for the care of a variety of critical wildlife response situations across the state," said Tara Riemer, President and CEO at the Alaska SeaLife Center. "To be able to have our expert colleagues assist us with this critically endangered beluga calf is a true testament to the marine mammal community’s commitment to caring for and preserving wild cetacean populations. To witness everyone come together for this very young calf is heartwarming as he is receiving the best 24-hour care from experts across North America.”

With any cetacean rescue, particularly with a neonatal calf, there is a high risk of complication and survival is estimated at less than 10 percent. The beluga calf was 162 centimeters long (64 inches) and weighed 64.5 kilograms (142 pounds) when it arrived at the Center.

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