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When a baby beluga got stranded, these vets jumped into action

In our NewsHour Shares moment of the day, a team of veterinarians went into overdrive when they discovered a beluga whale calf separated from its mother on a rocky, Alaska beach. Special correspondent Valerie Kern of Alaska Public Media shares a profile of the woman who led the rare rescue.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now to a NewsHour Shares, a story that caught our eye.

    It’s very rare for a beluga whale calf to become separated from its mother. So, when a team of veterinarians discovered one on a rocky Alaska beach, they went into overdrive to save the endangered whale, whose numbers have been declining in Cook Inlet.

    From Alaska Public Media, Valerie Kern sent this profile of the woman who led the rare rescue.

  • Dr. Carrie Goertz:

    I was actually out in the Cook Inlet doing a necropsy of another beluga whale, and part of the team wound up leaving the area when they spotted what they at first thought was another carcass.

    And so they went to check it out. And lo and behold, it was a live calf. Their first response was to try and see whether it would go back into the water, but, unfortunately, it wouldn’t.

    My name is Carrie Goertz. I’m the director of animal health care at the Alaska SeaLife Center. We primarily care for seals and otters, as well as walrus. So it’s very unusual for us to have a beluga here.

    And there have only been a few other beluga calves in North America that have come in for rehabilitation.

    Initially, just like with any kind of sick person, he was rather punky and didn’t have a whole lot of energy. He obviously did damage to some of his muscles, just bruising and whatnot from laying on a beach, rather than floating in the water.

    And he did have pneumonia. Fortunately, for this calf, we felt that he had been with mom for a little while, so he got that initial burst of antibodies and good stuff from mom.

    And he also had learned some behaviors. Like, he knew how to suckle and he very quickly learned to suckle from a bottle. And so that helped him out in particular.

    The aquaria in the Lower 48 have been extremely generous, sending staff and helping in numerous ways.

  • Jesse Ciletti:

    Yes, made it all the way over. We had to check him out.

    My name is Jesse. I’m from Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut. I’m a trainer of cetaceans and pinnipeds there.

    It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is my first day in with him in the water, and it’s amazing. The trust that he has for us and the willingness for him to come over, not only for his bottle, but for tactile and just that interaction, is awesome.

  • Dr. Carrie Goertz:

    Over time, we have been able to let him spend more time on his own.

    He also — we can tell he’s — when he’s moving his head, he’s working on his echolocation and exploring. And he certainly interacts a lot with people and play with them.

    Caring for stranded animals, it’s an opportunity to learn about the species and the pressures going on in the population in the wild. This is the first beluga from Cook Inlet that we have been able to do a hearing test on. But it’s also important for the greater population for scientists and resource managers, because one of the concerns of what might be a pressure to the Cook Inlet beluga whales is their ability to hear in what’s a very noisy environment.

    So, having that information will help scientists better understand potential impacts to the population. There has been interest across the nation, and we will probably be talking about him for a very long time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    When the young calf is healthy enough, he will be moved to a new facility, but will not return to the ocean, since he’s become dependent on humans for survival.

    And we have a news update before we go.

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