Baby whale rescue: experts from across U.S. treat beluga calf

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SEWARD, AK (KTUU) A rare Cook Inlet beluga whale calf, found stranded two weeks ago, is receiving around-the-clock care from a team of marine mammal experts from across North America.

photo courtesy Alaska SeaLife Center, NOAA permit 18786-01

"This calf is the first known animal rescued from the Cook Inlet beluga population" said Tara Reimer, president and CEO of the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, where the whale is being cared for.

Whale rescue experts and marine mammal specialists from five aquariums across the United States and Canada rushed to Alaska shortly after the whale was discovered on a beach on the western shore of Cook Inlet.

"The opportunity to study an animal like this, to spend time with this, is really part of a dream coming true" said Steve Aibel, with the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. "Although, we would much rather do it in situations that aren't as dire as this one."

While nursing the baby beluga back to health is the top priority, researchers say they have gathering important data while having such close contact with a member of this endangered species.

"We were able to do the first hearing test on a Cook Inlet beluga whale and hearing very essential to cetaceans." said Dr. Carrie Goertz, a veterinarian with the Alaska SeaLife Center.

The team caring for the whale says he is not gaining weight as they had hoped, but they are cautiously optimistic about his outlook. "Well, (he's doing) about as well as we could hope for, but still he has tremendous hurdles ahead."