Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
This photo taken July 4, 2012, at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska, shows Dennis Christen of the Georgia Aquarium feed a bottle to a baby beluga calf being rehabilitated at the center. The whale was approximately two days old when it was found in Bristol Bay, Alaska, and separated from its mother. Staff from the Alaska SeaLife Center is receiving help with the whale's care from the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Shedd Aquarium in ChiCago and SeaWord in San Diego. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
Alaska aquarium cares for abandoned baby beluga whale
Rescue » Male calf separated from mother, likely by a storm, shortly after birth.
First Published Jul 06 2012 01:44 pm • Last Updated Jul 06 2012 02:50 pm

Seward, Alaska • Marine mammal specialists from across the country have descended on an Alaska aquarium to help care for a baby beluga whale that became separated from its mother shortly after its birth.

The male calf is under 24-hour care at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, being fed by a stomach tube while learning how to suckle from a bottle.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

"He’s currently doing very well, swimming on his own and he has been from the first time he got here, learning to take food from a bottle, which has been challenging," said Tara Riemer Jones, the center’s president and CEO.

It’s believed to be the first baby beluga rescue in the United States, at least since federal record keeping began in 1972, she said. Other attempts at rescue resulted in calf deaths or in one case, the calf being returned to its pod.

It’s such a rare event that specialists have been helping with the animal’s care, including staff members from the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and SeaWorld in San Diego.

"It’s actually a pretty unprecedented event in certain ways," said Dennis Christen, the Georgia Aquarium’s director of animal training who was in place 29 hours after the calf arrived in Seward.

The whale was estimated to be 2 days old when it was found near South Naknek, in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, on June 18. Officials believe a storm likely separated the calf from its mother.

Tim Lebling, the Alaska SeaLife Center’s stranding coordinator, flew to South Naknek that afternoon to retrieve the calf.

It was flown 90 minutes back to Seward in dry transport. Lebling said the calf was placed on an air mattress in the plane, positioned so its weight wouldn’t put pressure on vital organs, and then constantly covered with wet towels.

Lebling said it was touch-and-go for the first part of the flight, probably because of stress.


story continues below
story continues below

"We thought he took his last breath at one point," Lebling said, but then he breathed again.

Even though the beluga is still in critical care, caregivers are guardedly optimistic about his rehabilitation.

Survival odds for an animal this age coming into a stranding program are low, said Brett Long, the husbandry director at the center.

"We take it a day at a time," he said. "We’re very happy to see that we appear to be meeting its nutritional goals and that it’s maintaining its weight, and we’re seeing slow, incremental weight gain."

The calf is now about 5 feet long and weighs 115 pounds, up 5 pounds since his arrival.

The biggest worry now is the calf’s immune system, which is insufficiently developed because it did not receive any of its mother’s milk.

"We are working with other aquariums to provide supplements that will help aid the development of that immune system, but it’s a waiting game," Long said.

Jones said there is nothing specifically wrong with the calf medically "other than he’s young and at high-risk."

"We’re not going to say it hasn’t been without some bumps in the road," Christen said. "We’re very confident we’re on the right path here, but it’s still an animal that’s in critical care, and we have to be guarded in our optimism, and we’re just hopeful we’re on the right path."

At the center, the calf has its own pool with toys and constant human companionship. At least three caregivers are with him 24-hours a day, two of them in wet suits and in the pool.

He often will rub up against his human handlers, who also help him learn new swimming patterns and play with him.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.