Rescued beluga whale calf will not be released into the wild

(Photo from Alaska SeaLife Center; NOAA permit 18786-01)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The Alaska SeaLife Center has announced their beluga whale – rescued from the Cook Inlet – will not be released back into the wild. The decision was made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, saying Tyonek "is not capable surviving on his own."

NOAA referenced the 24/7 care given by experts at the ALSC, and said Tyonek pulled through to become the first rescued Cook Inlet beluga calf to survive.

According to experts from NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, Tyonek is "nutritionally and socially dependent, lacks both survival and socialization skills needed to be successful on his own in the wild, and it is likely his mother either abandoned him or died." Additionally, the whale experienced a collapsed lung – a condition "which may recur and compromise survivability in the wild by limiting his ability to dive."

The beluga whale calf was rescued by Alaska Wildlife Troopers back in late-September. AWT officers spotted Tyonek in shallow water from a helicopter. And after repeated attempts, officers determined the whale would not be able to return to deeper water. He was then transported to the SeaLife Center by helicopter in Seward.

Tyonek will now be moved into permanent care at a U.S. facility.

NOAA says the placement decision is expected in the coming weeks, stating: "Once that decision is made, NOAA will work with the recipient facility to expedite the calf’s transportation and transition, so that he can be integrated into a social group where he can thrive with other whales."

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