ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — An endangered beluga whale calf rescued off Alaska’s coast was swimming in his new home Friday at SeaWorld San Antonio after a cross-country flight.
The whale named Tyonek was less than a month old when he became stranded in Alaska’s Cook Inlet last fall. Now 5 months old, the calf was cared for by the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska, until beginning his 4,000-mile (6,500-kilometer) journey to Texas on Thursday.
According to a statement Friday from Orlando-based SeaWorld, Tyonek is the first Cook Inlet beluga calf to be successfully rescued and rehabilitated. Tyonek will remain behind the scenes at the park’s zoological support area for several weeks as he acclimates to his new home.
Roughly 330 beluga whales live in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The population is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Tyonek’s mother likely abandoned him or died, experts from the Alaska SeaLife Center said.
The calf could not be released to the wild because he lacks the survival and social skills needed to thrive on his own, NOAA officials said in a statement last month. NOAA’s fisheries service chose SeaWorld San Antonio for Tyonek’s new home because the Texas park was the “location best suited for Tyonek to thrive.”
SeaWorld San Antonio has nine beluga whales, including young male calves. NOAA officials said SeaWorld could accommodate Tyonek’s social and medical needs and contribute to scientific research that will help conservation efforts for wild belugas.