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Beluga Rescue Collaboration: January 19-20, 2018

As reported by Laurie Macha, Mystic Aquarium’s Curator of Mammals and Birds

Saturday, January 19, 2018: I spent the entire day Friday traveling from CT to AK – arriving in Seward around 8:00pm. The drive from Anchorage to Seward on the Seward Highway continues to amaze me. Although it’s mostly dark in Alaska this time of year (10:00 am sunrise; 4:43 pm sunset), my drive through the Kenai Peninsula was nothing short of fantastic. The mountains hovering on either side -all snow covered, disappearing and reappearing through the cloud formations. With the fog and snow flurries, it reminded not only of the beauty but also of the dangerous curves of the highway. Arriving in Seward gave me a “home-sweet-home” feeling; being close to cherished colleagues and old friends and the excitement of making new ones. Not to mention the excitement of meeting Tyonek!

Sunday, January 20, 2018: I tried to get as much sleep as I could, but woke up rather early with anticipated excitement. I quietly went downstairs – the house where we’re staying is so generously provided by Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) and it’s shared currently by Mystic, Georgia and Shedd Aquarium staff – not to wake up the other folks I began getting myself ready for my first day. Before my shift was to begin, I got to meet the other two staff staying at the house -such wonderful dedicated people with whom I have so much in common. They let me know that our hostess’ dog often comes by to greet you, and then is on his way. (Can you tell I’m a dog lover?) His name is Rerun – a type of gold/red retriever with accents of wisdom on his face. So far both mornings, Rerun has come by, showing signs of friendliness, kisses, and then on his way. This is such a welcomed experience, being away from home and missing my own yellow lab Sandra.

Today, on my first day, I will be shadowing Jen from Shedd Aquarium to learn the basic routine and how to care for Tyonek. The routine will include cleaning, proving enrichment (and making new toys), making formula, bottle feeding, counting respirations, learning his normal behavior, hydrophone data collection, and documenting everything relating to his care. My shifts will be 4:00pm to midnight. Getting to work with colleagues learning, sharing knowledge, expertise and friendship is only one of the exciting things I will experience during my time in Alaska.

Words cannot express the first moment I stepped into the habitat where Tyonek lives. Awestruck, is the best I can do! He is such a little treasure – when I went to the pool side to meet him, he rolled to his side to get a good look at me. At that moment, I realized how this experience would change my life! Tyonek is from the endangered population of Cook Inlet belugas. The work that has gone into his care and rehabilitation has required a village. Understanding more about this population and how we can save it from further decline is on the forefront of our minds. Tyonek could be the key to help us understand, as he is the first stranded beluga calf from this population to survive. All of these thoughts were running through my head tonight as I learned my routine and how to work with Tyonek.

During the night I fed Tyonek twice learning the technique that he likes best – the night flew by and before I knew it, Christina from Georgia was there to relieve me from my shift. When I went back to the apartment I laid in bed just basking in the events of the night and thinking how lucky I am to be part of the amazing team of professionals caring for Tyonek. I can’t wait until tomorrow!

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