KENAI, Alaska — A 2- to 4-week-old male beluga calf is being nurtured back to health in Alaska after it was spotted beached on the shore of the Cook Inlet’s Trading Bay.
A state trooper and Noah Meisenheimer of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were on patrol in a helicopter when they spotted the stranded beluga last week, The Peninsula Clarion reported (http://bit.ly/2z8wCP1 ).
They did not see any adult belugas in the area and when they tried to put the calf back in the water, it re-beached itself.
The calf was taken to Alaska SeaLife Center’s marine intensive care facility, where nine experts from the U.S. and Canada have arrived to help.
SeaLife Center Director of Animal Health Dr. Carrie Goertz estimated the calf had been beached for several hours, although upon arriving at the center he was able to swim on his own and had no signs of major physical trauma.
Alaska SeaLife Center President Tara Riemer said the calf’s biggest challenge is the unknown. That’s why it’s under 24-hour supervision by the nine beluga experts who flew in.
“We are using a lot of diagnostics to keep an eye on his condition so if anything changes, we know as soon as possible,” Riemer said.
When the calf is healthy enough, NOAA officials will decide if it should be released or if it is “un-releasable,” Riemer said.
The calf is the first member of Cook Inlet’s endangered beluga population to be in human care. The inlet’s population is one of Alaska’s five distinct beluga groups.
The number of Cook Inlet belugas is believed to have declined because of unregulated subsistence hunting. The population was 1,293 in 1979 and is estimated to currently be at 340.
New research, however, aims to find out why the population hasn’t recovered since the crackdown on subsistence hunting, which ended in 1999. NOAA has awarded more than $1.3 million to the state for three years of research on the belugas, which were protected by the Endangered Species Act in 2008, putting their management under the federal agency’s jurisdiction.
Belugas feed on salmon, smaller fish, crab, shrimp, squid and clams. Dubbed “sea canaries,” the whales make a wide range of whistles, grunts and clicks and use echolocation to navigate under ice and find prey in murky water.
Information from: (Kenai, Alaska) Peninsula Clarion, http://www.peninsulaclarion.com