Alaska Aquarium Cares for Rescued Baby Beluga Whale

By Molly Maddock

Jul 6, 2012 4:23pm

The first rescued baby beluga whale in U.S. history is being cared for in an Alaska aquarium.

The whale, believed to have been separated from its mother in a storm, was found near South Naknek in Alaska’s Bristol Bay on June 18. The calf was just two to three days old.

Beluga specialists from across the country have arrived in Alaska to help the Alaska Sealife Center with the whale’s extensive care. Three full-time staff are with the calf at all times, administering tube feedings eight to 10 times a day.

The vulnerability of the calf’s immune system is their main concern.

“The state of his immune system is not where I would like it to be,” said veterinarian Dr. Carrie Goertz. “He will be at risk for infection for months until his own immune system starts kicking into gear because he never received milk from his mother.”

Specialists from Atlanta, Chicago and San Diego have provided invaluable knowledge.

“We don’t have any other stranded belugas to compare it to,” said Brett Long, husbandry director at Alaska Sealife Center. “We’re relying on help from other beluga holders and their decades of experience. That’s what’s driving our successes right now: collaborating with others.”

Specialists from San Diego, in particular, have some familiarity in caring for a baby beluga. Two years ago, a beluga mother rejected her offspring at San Diego’s Seaworld, forcing the park’s specialists to raise the calf.

The National Marine Fisheries Service will determine what facility will be the whale’s long-term home, as he will never be able to return to the wild.  Right now, however, caregivers are focusing on the short-term. 

“We’re not sure we’re going to have an animal around, truthfully,” said Dennis Christen, Georgia Aquarium’s director of animal training.

The calf still faces many risks, but its handlers remain hopeful, citing several signs of improvement. It is slowly starting to gain weight and become more vocal and energetic in the pool.

“When we get in the water, he comes over and runs into us, like he’s playing. It’s a rough job,” Long said.

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