They are known to be extremely social creatures that thrive in the frigid waters of the Arctic.
So the discovery of a lone beluga whale off the coast of Seattle, nearly 1,500 miles from its closest population in Alaska, has left scientists baffled.
The rogue creature’s ‘very rare’ appearance is the first documented sighting of a beluga whale in Puget Sound inlet in more than 80 years.
The closest beluga whale population is in Cook Inlet, Alaska, about 1,450 miles away.
Mystery: The discovery of a lone beluga whale off the coast of Seattle, nearly 1,500 miles from its nearest town in Alaska, has left scientists baffled (file image)
The closest beluga population is in Cook Inlet, Alaska, about 1,450 miles from Seattle.
How Beluga Whales Feel Most Comfortable in the Waters of the Arctic Ocean
Belugas, also known as white whales, are known for having rounded foreheads and no dorsal fin.
Marine mammals feed on fish, crustaceans, and worms.
With a length of 13 to 20 feet, the whales are common in the coastal waters of the Arctic Ocean.
But they migrate south in large herds when the sea freezes.
Whales, whose scientific name is Delphinapterus leucas, have an average lifespan of 35 to 50 years in the wild and weigh about a ton.
Experts are stumped as to how and why it ended up near Seattle, but the fact that it has been swimming near three different shipyards has thrown up a theory.
“I don’t understand the attraction of a shipyard to a beluga,” said Howard Garrett, co-founder of Orca Network, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness of whales in Puget Sound.
He said Living science: ‘I don’t know if that’s a clue, if that means he had been held captive in a shipyard somewhere in a busy port, but we have no documents, no idea where he would be, certainly in North America.’
Two years ago, another beluga whale made headlines when it appeared off the coast of Norway sporting a Russian harness and camera accessory, prompting speculation that it may have been acting as a spy for Moscow.
It was discovered by fishermen in April 2019 and again baffled experts because belugas are rarely seen this far south of the high Arctic.
Norway’s national intelligence agency launched an investigation, which it deemed the whale was likely part of a Russian investigation program.
However, there is no suggestion that the Seattle beluga has anything to do with the Kremlin.
Secret Agent? Two years ago, another beluga whale made headlines when it appeared off the coast of Norway sporting a Russian harness and camera accessory (pictured), sparking speculation that it may have been acting as a spy for Moscow.
Garrett’s other thought is that he can be a keen globetrotter.
“Until we have some indication, my default theory is that this whale just decided to go for a walk, to go exploring,” he said.
I wanted to travel. It is very unusual, but from time to time it happens with different [beluga] populations. So it’s not totally unprecedented, but it’s definitely very rare. ”
The last recorded sighting of a beluga whale in Puget Sound was in 1940, he added.
There was also a report of a beluga in the sound in 2010, but only one person said they had seen it and could not obtain photographic evidence.
One of the first reported sightings of this new beluga was on October 3, when it was seen swimming in Commencement Bay near Tacoma, about 30 miles (50 km) south of Seattle.
Jason Rogers, from Bonney Lake, Washington, saw the whale and began filming.
Beluga whales are extremely social and live, hunt and migrate together in groups, ranging from a few individuals to hundreds of whales (file image)
Experts believe it is in good health and say the fact that Puget Sound has lots of squid, crabs and small fish – all part of a beluga’s staple diet – is a good sign.
The area is also home to other whales, including humpback and minke species, so the beluga is not alone in that regard.
Belugas are white because it helps them stay camouflaged between the sea and the Arctic ice, as is the case with other animals native to the polar region.
They are extremely sociable and live, hunt and migrate together in herds, ranging from a few individuals to hundreds of whales. Its bulbous forehead, called ‘melon’, is capable of changing shape and is used for communication and echolocation.
Scientists now hope to get more images of the beluga in Seattle to compare it to other nearby known whales in an effort to identify where it came from.
The local branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is leading this analysis, while other groups of whales and animals are also monitoring the movements of belugas.
In the UK, a beluga whale was seen living in the River Thames for several months between September and December 2018.
Nicknamed, ‘Benny the Beluga’, he drew crowds of people to the riverbank in hopes of seeing him, feeding regularly along the Kent stretch of the Thames.
The Port of London Authority said Benny was almost certain to be heading home in January 2019.
WHY DO SOME SPECIES GO THROUGH MENOPAUSE?
Few animals are known to go through menopause, and most species reproduce until they die.
Along with humans; Killer whales, killer whales, short-finned pilot whales, beluga whales, and narwhals have all evolved the trait.
Menopause is usually triggered when animals undergo hormonal changes that cause them to stop reproducing.
The researchers suggest that this biological “kill switch” is useful in species that spend most of their lives caring for their offspring.
In killer whales, for example, both male and female offspring remain with their mothers for life, as well as with their grandchildren.
The mother is responsible for the search for food and, if she continued to have offspring, her direct descendants would have to compete for resources.