Rescued Beluga Calf Dies

The beluga calf that the Alaska SeaLife Center rescued from Naknek Bay has died. The cause of death is unknown, but experts say it’s difficult to keep a neonatal whale alive in captivity.

The baby beluga rescued from Naknek Bay three weeks ago was having trouble processing food from the beginning. It was under 24-hour supervision, by three teams of three caregivers. Then yesterday evening, the three person team noticed he had an elevated heart rate. They brought in three additional experts to try to save the animal, but the calf died late last night. Despite the excitement surrounding the baby beluga’s rescue, Tara Riemer Jones, president of the Alaska SeaLife Center, says they are they weren’t surprised when the calf died.

“The team that was actually working with the animal every day, while they were the closest to the animal, I think they also were the most realistic about its future,” Jones said. “The rest of the staff, I think, probably took the news even harder.”

“Because they wanted to believe so much that this would be successful and it’s just been very difficult when visitors have been coming in and asking how the beluga was doing and having to give them the truth this morning.”

The beluga was only a few days old when it was found in Naknek on June 18. Though belugas can survive for decades as adults in captivity, not much is known about keeping them alive as calves or just after birth. Jones says the team kept that in mind over the last three weeks.

“We were trying to always be careful to say we were being caustically optimistic,” Jones said. “The truth is that the team was really surprised that the animal actually lived this long.”

Jones says the baby beluga found in Naknek three weeks ago was the first neonatal beluga to be rescued in the United States.

“From the very beginning, every day was a win with this animal,” Jones said. “And every day that we learned about caring for a neonatal beluga was really a win for the team.”

In the past three weeks, scientists and veterinarians have been visiting and calling to ask about the beluga. Jones says the center built a vast network of people willing to work on beluga neonatal care. And now, the team, and scientists know more about the whales during this stage in their lives.

“We will now have a better understanding of the intensity of what is required in these situations – what is required logistically to meet the demands of a neonatal beluga calf,” Jones said.

Without much good news coming out of Seward this weekend, Jones is regretting to have to deliver more bad news. They will be conducting a necropsy Monday afternoon.

Download Audio