As reported by Ray Molnar, Mystic Aquarium’s Senior Trainer of Cetaceans and Pinnipeds
December 5: Tyonek continues to grow and develop in my second week at Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) in Seward. I have changed shifts and now care for him from 3:30pm to 12:00am Alaska time. I am honored to have been named the ‘lead’ for the shift. Working collaboratively with staff from Georgia Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium, and ASLC we are still providing him with 24 hour care. Tyonek receives a bottle of formula every four (4) hours as well as enrichment sessions and behavioral observations between his feedings. With the number of daylight hours being small, I have adjusted to feeding and caring for him with minimal lighting. He does rest at times between feedings, but still is exploring his habitat.
A change for Tyonek this week has been the now full water level of his pool. Tyonek has a choice to swim in six (6) feet of water or dive and explore in 10 feet of water. We are seeing more dive behaviors now.
The increased water level has required an adjustment in feedings to mostly pool side feeds. We have either been sitting with our feet in the water or kneeling for his feeds. It has taken him a little to adjust to these feedings; but, he has quickly caught on to this feeding style. The staff at ASLC has built a small platform in the shallow portion of the habitat so we are still able to get in the water with him from time to time. This is important as this contact and interaction mimic what he would receive from his mother or other beluga whales.
I have been continuing to conduct hydrophone recording sessions to gather additional information about beluga whale vocalizations. We have also had researchers come in to conduct hearing studies with Tyonek; utilizing the same techniques that were done with our very own Kela.
It has been great to be part of ongoing research to gather critical data about the Cook Inlet population of belugas. With what we are able to learn about this endangered population – now estimated to be about 328 – we can hopefully make some changes to ensure their survival.
Conservation, education, and research are so important in what we do every day while caring for some amazing animals. I truly hope our work inspires people everywhere to care for and protect our ocean planet. I know it does for me.
Although it will be difficult to leave Tyonek and everyone in Alaska, I am looking forward to my return home to my Mystic Aquarium family. Stay tuned for my final post and how Tyonek continues to improve over my last week here in Alaska!
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