The rescued Cook Inlet beluga whale will soon call SeaWorld San Antonio home, according to a release from NOAA Fisheries.
In January, NOAA determined that Tyonek was “non-releasable” and would not survive life in the wild, so the organization began reviewing applications for which facility would make the best, permanent home for the whale, which has been under 24/7 care from experts at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward since he was found stranded on the Cook Inlet mud flats in September 2017.
“The most important factor for placement of Tyonek was his age and social needs,” said Kate Brogan with NOAA Fisheries Public Affairs. “SeaWorld of Texas had the most appropriate social group to integrate Tyonek, comprising of several mature females that may act as surrogate mothers as well as two young male calves that will provide additional companionship for him as he continues to grow.”
Tyonek was less than a month old when he was rescued and has been at Alaska SeaLife Center ever since. According to NOAA, he has become both nutrionally and socially dependent and lacks the survival and socialization skills that are necessary for life in the wild.
“A permanent place at a marine mammal facility provides Tyonek with a second chance at survival and social development with other belugas,” according to the release.
A specific date for Tyonek’s move has not been set, but Brogan said NOAA will continue their work to ensure that everything goes smoothly.
“NOAA Fisheries will continue to work with the Alaska Sea Life Center and SeaWorld of Texas to coordinate the safe and speedy transport of Tyonek to his new home,” she said.
Tyonek comes from the Cook Inlet beluga population, which is designated as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. NOAA scientists estimate that their abundance is at about 328 animals.
“We want to thank the Alaska SeaLife Center and our partners in the marine mammal conservation community for the dedicated care that helped rehabilitate Tyonek,” said Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries Chris Oliver. “The permanent placement of Tyonek at SeaWorld San Antonio—and the scientific knowledge gained by learning from him for years to come — will benefit Cook Inlet beluga research and recovery.”