Beluga whale calf from Alaska will find new home in San Antonio

Tyonek, a beluga whale calf from Cook Inlet, recovers at the Alaska SeaLife Center (NOAA Photo)
Tyonek, a beluga whale calf from Cook Inlet, recovers at the Alaska SeaLife Center (NOAA Photo)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (KXAN) — A young, endangered beluga whale from Alaska will soon find a new home in the nation’s second-largest state. The 5-month-old will soon join Sea World San Antonio’s nine other beluga whales.

The calf was found stranded in Cook Inlet back in September when he was less than a month old. His mother likely either abandoned him or died, and he became the first beluga whale from the area to be successfully rescued and rehabilitated. Staff caring for him 24/7 at the Alaska SeaLife Center named him Tyonek, after the village closest to where he was found. It means “Little Chief.”

Those who worked with him hoped he could one day return to the wild. However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined in January he would not be able to be released because he hasn’t developed enough survival and social skills. Instead, it began looking for the perfect place for the young whale to grow up.

“We are proud to play our part in Tyonek’s continued care, alongside the federal government and others who have helped since his rescue,” said SeaWorld Chief Zoological Officer Dr. Chris Dold. “Experts from across North America came together to give Tyonek a second chance at life, and this is the culmination of those countless hours of care from passionate and dedicated people.”

NOAA estimates there are only about 328 of the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale population. Scientists hope they can learn more about the whales as they observe Tyonek’s behavioral and physical development, and hope to use that research to improve the whales’ numbers.

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