Marine mammal experts from several aquariums--including two members of SeaWorld’s San Diego’s animal rescue team--are joining efforts in Seward, Alaska to give an orphaned beluga whale calf a second chance at life.
On Sept. 30, a beluga whale calf was found stranded and in distress near Trading Bay in Western Cook Inlet, Alaska. Rescuers transferred the whale to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, where they placed it under intensive care.
Dr. Todd Schmitt, SeaWorld San Diego’s senior veterinarian, and Eric Otjen, the park assistant curator of mammals, are part of a team providing around-the-clock care to the orphaned calf. With them are veterinarians and marine mammal husbandry experts from Georgia Aquarium, Vancouver Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium and Mystic Aquarium.
"It’s truly a privilege to be part of such a passionate group of animal care specialists with the singular goal of trying to save this young beluga’s life," said Schmitt.
About four weeks old, the calf belongs to the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale population, which now only has 328 individuals left in the wild. The young whale, struggling to stay alive on its own, was five feet long and weighed 142 pounds when it arrived at the center.
If the first few days of a rescue are generally the most critical to ensure the survival of cetaceans, dealing with a neonatal calf makes the situation even harder. This is because the risk of complication is higher for such young animals, and their survival rate is only 10 percent, according to the Alaska SeaLife Center.
Monitoring the beluga closely, the experts from SeaWorld and the other aquariums are working hard to make future a reality for the calf.
"As Alaska’s only marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation center, our team of experts is responsible for the care of a variety of critical wildlife response situations across the state," said Tara Riemer, Alaska SeaLife Center’s president and CEO.
"To be able to have our expert colleagues assist us with this critically endangered beluga calf is a true testament to the marine mammal community’s commitment to caring for and preserving wild cetacean populations. To witness everyone come together for this very young calf is heartwarming as he is receiving the best 24-hour care from experts across North America," she added.