SeaLife Center findings on beluga whale rescue published

Published: Dec. 12, 2021 at 4:46 PM AKST|Updated: Dec. 14, 2021 at 1:39 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska SeaLife Center Director of Animal Health Carrie Goertz was the primary author on a report on two separate beluga whale rescues that was published in the journal Polar Research on Nov. 26.

The recent publication in collaboration with various contributors details the attempt to rehabilitate Naknek, a beluga whale rescued in 2012 who later died, and Tyonek, who was rescued by Alaska Wildlife Troopers in 2017 along with a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration enforcement officer and has integrated with the beluga pod at SeaWorld San Antonio after surviving thanks to care from staff at the SeaLife Center over six months in Seward.

“I am so proud of how the professional zoological community came together to care for and learn from both calves,” Goertz said. “Looking back, I know that it was exhausting and emotionally draining at times, but what I really remember is the joy of seeing the beluga calves respond to treatment, watching their personalities develop, and feeling the support and camaraderie of the care team. The group brought decades of experience caring for stranded cetaceans as well as neonatal belugas and dolphins in aquaria in order to support both Naknek and Tyonek.”

Tyonek became the first ever Cook Inlet beluga to be successfully rehabilitated and survive, before moving to SeaWorld in 2018. SeaWorld San Antonio Vice President of Zoological Operations Steve Aibel worked with Tyonek both in Seward and now in San Antonio.

“The greatest part is this important story is being told today with the help of a healthy and thriving whale. I am not unique in saying that this experience changed the people who cared for him 24 hours a day for several months. In truth, every rescue does that! Every rescue matters as does every animal that we care for. They all add to the collective knowledge that helped Tyonek and will continue to help even more animals in need,” Aibel said.

Clarification: This article has been updated to add that NOAA was also involved in the 2017 rescue of the beluga whale.

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