Stranded beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) calf response and care: reports of two cases with different outcomes

  • Caroline E.C. Goertz Alaska SeaLife Center, Seward, AK, USA
  • Kathy Woodie Alaska SeaLife Center, Seward, AK, USA
  • Brett Long Alaska SeaLife Center, Seward, AK, USA
  • Lisa Hartman Alaska SeaLife Center, Seward, AK, USA
  • Eric Gaglione Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, GA, USA
  • Dennis Christen Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, GA, USA
  • Tonya Clauss Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, GA, USA
  • Jennifer Flower Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT, USA
  • Allison Tuttle Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT, USA
  • Carey Richard Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT, USA
  • Tracy A. Romano Mystic Aquarium, Mystic, CT, USA
  • Todd Schmitt SeaWorld San Diego, San Diego, CA, USA
  • Eric Otjen SeaWorld San Diego, San Diego, CA, USA
  • Steve Osborn SeaWorld San Antonio, San Antonio, TX, USA
  • Steve Aibel John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, IL, USA
  • Tim Binder John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, IL, USA; and Florida Aquarium, Tampa, FL, USA
  • William Van Bonn John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, IL, USA
  • Manuel Castellote Marine Mammal Laboratory, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Seattle, WA, USA; and Cooperative Institute for Climate, Ocean, and Ecosystem Studies, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
  • T. Aran Mooney Biology Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, USA
  • Sophie Dennison-Gibby TeleVet Imaging Solutions, PLLC, Oakton, VA, USA
  • Kathy Burek-Huntington Alaska Veterinary Pathology Service, Eagle River, AK, USA
  • Teresa K. Rowles Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Silver Spring, MD, USA
Keywords: Cetacean, neonate, nutrition, hand-rearing, critical care


Given the remote, rugged areas belugas typically inhabit and the low rehabilitation success rate with any cetacean, it is rare to have the opportunity to rescue a live-stranded beluga. The Alaska SeaLife Center cared for two stranded beluga calves with two different outcomes. In 2012, a neonatal male beluga calf (DL1202) stranded following intense storms in Bristol Bay. In 2017, a helicopter pilot discovered a stranded male beluga calf (DL1705) during a flight over Cook Inlet. The Alaska SeaLife Center transported both calves for rehabilitation and utilized supportive care plans based on those for other species of stranded cetaceans and care of neonatal belugas at zoological facilities. Diagnostics included complete blood counts, serum chemistries, microbial cultures, hearing tests, imaging and morphometric measurements to monitor systemic health. Treatments included in-pool flotation support; antimicrobials; gastrointestinal support; and close monitoring of respirations, urination, defecation and behaviour. After three weeks of supportive care, the Bristol Bay calf (DL1202) succumbed to sepsis secondary to a possible prematurity-related lack of passive transfer of antibodies. After seven weeks, the Cook Inlet calf (DL1705) recovered and all medications were discontinued. Unable to survive on his own, he was declared non-releasable and placed in long-term care at a zoological facility, to live with other belugas. Aspects and details from successful cases of cetacean critical care become important references especially vital for the survival of essential animals in small, endangered populations.


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How to Cite
Goertz C. E., Woodie K., Long B., Hartman L., Gaglione E., Christen D., Clauss T., Flower J., Tuttle A., Richard C., Romano T. A., Schmitt T., Otjen E., Osborn S., Aibel S., Binder T., Van Bonn W., Castellote M., Mooney T. A., Dennison-Gibby S., Burek-Huntington K., & Rowles T. K. (2021). Stranded beluga (<em>Delphinapterus leucas</em&gt;) calf response and care: reports of two cases with different outcomes. Polar Research, 40(S1).