First Beluga Whale Seen in Puget Sound for 80 Years Could Be 'Far From Home'

A beluga whale has been spotted by boaters around the waters around Washington for the first time in over 80 years.

The whale has been seen in Puget Sound on at least six occasions since Sunday. The last time a beluga whale was seen in the area was in 1940.

The first sighting came on October 3 from Central Puget Sound, the second from Point Defiance. The fourth was in Elliott Bay, West Seattle the following day, and the fifth in Bremerton Shipyard, according to the Orca Network.

The organization posted a video of the first sighting by Jason Rogers and reported the sightings to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Center for Whale Research, and other experts. These sources confirmed that the animal is indeed a beluga whale.

While the sighting has been met with amazement across social media, the Orca Network expressed concern around the beluga whale's safety and the fact it is out of its usual environment.

"While exciting, there is great concern for this Beluga who is far from home, and being a social animal concern they are alone and away from their pod," the organization stated on its Facebook page.

They also issued an appeal on Twitter for anyone else who spots the whale to report it to themselves or to the NOAA.

Part of the concern for this animal arises from the fact that beluga whales, often referred to as "the canaries of the sea" due to the array of sounds they make, are highly social and thus are rarely seen alone as this whale is.

We have received multiple reports of a beluga whale in Puget Sound since Sunday, & are working with NOAA Fisheries to assess condition/obtain ID photos. PLEASE REPORT ASAP if seen: call 866-ORCANET or email info@orcanetwork.org or alisa@orcanetwork.org. More on our Facebook page. pic.twitter.com/8hnhseNM6o

— Orca Network (@orcanetwork) October 5, 2021

What is difficult to tell is how and why the whale has wandered away from its pod, which is likely located in south-central Alaska's Cook Inlet or the arctic and subarctic waters of the U.S. and Canada, The Seattle Times reports.

Biologist in NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Sand Point, Paul Wade leads research into the threats impacting endangered beluga whales in Cook Inlet, south-central Alaska. The Cook Inlet beluga whales are one of five separate populations of this species that occupy the waters of Alaska, but they are the only population currently endangered.

He told the paper that there could be several reasons why the whale may have separated from its grouping. The beluga whale may simply be exploring new territory or it could be starving, with a lack of fish in its usual foraging areas forcing it to explore further.

Another possible explanation is the whale is suffering from poisoning by domoic acid caused by algal blooms, also known as "red tides." Domoic acid is a neurotoxin to sea mammals that attacks the brain, causing lethargy, disorientation, seizures, and eventually death if not treated. When ingested by whales this neurotoxin can interfere with the creature's ability to navigate.

Wade also said that there are currently no indications that the whale is suffering from this condition. The biologist added that the NOAA would likely assess if they can approach the animal and photograph it.

From these images, experts could use marks like scratches and scarring on the body of the whale to determine what population of the species it belongs to.

Beluga Whales
An image of two Cook Inlet beluga whales. A beluga whale spotted in the waters of Puget Sound could have strayed away from this population. NOAA