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Stranded baby beluga whale dies

10 July 2012, 10:06

 Seward - A baby beluga whale that was believed to be just 2 days old when it was found stranded after a storm in Alaska's Bristol Bay has died at a research aquarium where it received round-the-clock care by a team of marine mammal experts.

Officials at the Alaska SeaLife Centre said that despite everyone's best efforts, the whale died early on Monday morning after it became evident on Sunday that the young whale's condition was declining. A full necropsy was to be performed later.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of this beluga calf," Tara Riemer Jones, the Seward centre's president and CEO, said in a statement.

Jones praised the care provided by marine mammal specialist from across the country. She said their knowledge allowed the centre to provide the best care possible.

"There is more we will continue to learn about beluga whales as a result of this loss that will ultimately benefit beluga whales in the marine mammal community and in the wild," she said.

Guarded optimism

The whale is believed to be the first baby beluga to be rescued in the US since the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.

The calf was found on 18 June near South Naknek. Officials believe a storm likely separated the calf from its mother.

The calf was flown 90 minutes to Seward. In the plane, it was placed on an air mattress and positioned so its weight wouldn't put pressure on vital organs. It was constantly covered with wet towels.

Last week, centre officials expressed guarded optimism about the calf's rehabilitation. It was swimming on its own. It was learning to take food from a bottle, which officials said had been challenging. However, it was still in critical care.

The beluga was 1.5m long and weighed 52kg, up 2.3kg since its arrival.

Survival odds for an animal this age coming into a stranding programme are low, Brett Long, the husbandry director at the centre, said at the time.

"We take it a day at a time," he said, adding that the beluga was "maintaining its weight, and we're seeing slow, incremental weight gain".

The biggest worry was the calf's immune system, which was insufficiently developed because it did not receive any of its mother's milk.

- AP


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