Alaskan beluga whale calf to head for new waters in San Antonio home

Feeding time for young Tyonek. Photo from NOAA via Chloe Rossman, ​Alaska SeaLife Center.
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - An orphaned beluga whale calf will be calling San Antonio his new home after a thorough review of applications came flooding into Alaska, vying to adopt the young whale.

The rescued whale Tyonek, who was found swimming alone in Cook Inlet, was determined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to not be eligible for release back into the wild. At that time, NOAA said, Tyonek was "not a candidate for release due to his young age upon arrival, health conditions, and other factors."

Next, the question was where Tyonek would go, if not back into the wild. While he's currently still undergoing rehabilitation at the Alaska SeaLife Center, Tyonek will need different facilities for his continued development. That's where SeaWorld San Antonio comes in.

"Based on a thorough review of the applications, NOAA Fisheries selected SeaWorld San Antonio as the location best suited for Tyonek to thrive because they have both adult females and young male calves that will be important for Tyonek’s social development," the administration wrote in a statement.

Chris Oliver, an assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said that they want to thank the Alaska SeaLife Center for the dedicated care that helped rehabilitate Tyonek.

“The permanent placement of Tyonek at SeaWorld San Antonio—and the scientific knowledge gained by learning from him for years to come—will benefit Cook Inlet beluga research and recovery," Oliver said.

Cook Inlet belugas are one of eight endangered species that NOAA Fisheries identified in a nationwide "Species in the Spotlight" initiative designed to help stabilize population declines in specifically "at risk of extinction" marine species.

KTUU first reported on Tyonek when he was spotted in Cook Inlet stuck in shallow water. Since then, he has matured, grown, and is preparing to make the trip to San Antonio.

NOAA said it will continue to work with Alaska SeaLife Center and SeaWorld San Antonio to coordinate the safe and speedy transport of Tyonek to his new home.