A white whale’s trip to Tacoma in the first week of October has raised some questions about the rare oceanic occurrence – mainly, why did a beluga whale visit Puget Sound for the first time in more than eight decades?
“We are closely tracking sightings of a beluga whale in the Puget Sound area, hundreds of miles outside its usual range,” the North Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Oct. 6.
The agency confirmed the beluga was in the southern end of Puget Sound, near Commencement Bay, a spokesperson told Black Press Media. The whale traversed BC’s waters, but it’s currently unknown which side of Vancouver Island it used on the journey south.
There’s also no answer to what brought the animal to Tacoma.
“The ‘why’ remains a mystery,” said Michael Milstein, a public affairs officer with NOAA’s West Coast regional office.
A team observed and photographed the white whale for eight hours on Oct. 7 and they’re comparing the images with ones of known belugas in Alaska, Milstein said. The last known sighting of a beluga in Puget Sound was in 1940.
Real time sightings are very important to locate the whale, gathering photos and other data would help us understand where it is from and assess its health…
Video: October 3rd, Commencement Bay, Tacoma Credit: Jason Rogers pic.twitter.com/pnZ3LazVl9
— NOAAFish_WCRO (@NOAAFish_WCRO) October 7, 2021
Belugas live in the Arctic Ocean and subarctic areas. They’re commonly found in many regions of Alaska, but also in the waters of Canada, Russia and Greenland, according to NOAA. The whales find home in shallow coastal areas during the summer before returning to deeper waters in other seasons. They also seasonally inhabit estuaries and large river deltas to feed on fish runs, so they’re adapted to cold ocean and warmer freshwater habitats.
Milstein said a beluga was documented off of San Diego last year and there’s been a number of “wayward” belugas in the Atlantic Ocean.
NOAA said anyone who sees a whale should follow Whale Wise Guidelines. Canadian law requires boats to keep at least 100 metres away from whales in Pacific waters that aren’t orcas. Washington state law also says boats need to keep 100 metres of distance.
Boaters were in disbelief as they videoed the whale swimming near Tacoma on Oct. 3.
“Oh my gosh, what is that?” a person is heard saying during the video. “Is it a…it can’t be a beluga.”
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