A baby beluga whale, dubbed Tyonek, repeatedly stranded himself on the Cook Inlet beach despite rescuers trying their best to release him back into the ocean. This week he made a 4,000 mile journey from the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska to SeaWorld San Antonio.
Before condemning any organization for trying to capitalize on the beluga calf rescued from a mudflat in September 2017, spotted by Alaska Wildlife Trooper’s helicopter patrol, read his story and then make a decision. When the calf was rescued, he was just a month old and was immediately transported to the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward and treated in their veterinary facility. The baby whale had to be treated for sunburn, infections and a collapsed lung left from having been stranded. Since his rescue, Tyonek has gained weight from 140 pounds to 260 pounds – consuming an average of 1.2 gallons of formula a day.
The Cook Inlet Beluga whale population continues to be endangered and do not always survive with human care no matter how hard scientists and rescuers try. For months, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, given the authority to manage Cook Inlet’s endangered beluga population, worked with the calf, but it has been determined, because of the five-month-old calf’s lack of social and survival skills, he would not be able to be released back into the wild.
And now, according to a report by Express News, it was announced in February that Tyonek would be transferred to Texas where he could integrate with several female whales and two young calves to provide companionship for the young whale as he matures. There are nine belugas at SeaWorld San Antonio of which five have been born in captivity.
Last Thursday, Tyonek left aboard a truck from Seward to Anchorage, safely secured in a partially filled tank suspended from a stretcher. The trip had been reported to have been more stressful for the staff than for Tyonek. Once he arrived in Anchorage, he was boarded onto a charter plane headed for San Antonio and that night, as the plane landed, another vehicle carried the whale from the airport to SeaWorld with a police escort to eliminate any unnecessary time delays or traffic.
“When we put him into the pool, we had folks waiting for him,” stated Chris Bellows, president of zoological operations at SeaWorld San Antonio. “…. We checked everything out, and we then offered him a bottle, and he gobbled that down – obviously his appetite was good. We had a good interaction with him, and then we said ‘ok – let’s let him rest a little bit’.”
Once Tyonek’s quarantine period is over, he will slowly be introduced to the other whales using a transparent divider so he can see and hear his new friends without touching. Because of the Cook Inlet whales being classified as endangered, Tyonek will never be trained to perform for audiences, but will be a part of the educational program to raise awareness.
(Photos supplied by SeaWorld)
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