The Baby Beluga with a Fighting Spirit - Tyonek's StoryMarch 8, 2022
Caption: Tyonek with Innik and Kenai (left to right). Activity conducted pursuant to NMFS ESA/MMPA Permit No. 22095
Tyonek’s story is a special one, as he is the first and only successfully rescued and rehabilitated beluga calf. He came from an endangered population of belugas known of the Cook Inlet belugas, which are a genetically distinct population. This population once flourished in numbers, but it is estimated today that there are less than 300 left (and continuing to decline).
Tyonek was spotted in late 2017 by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, stranded on a mudflat at only one month old. No one knows for certain what happened, but the wide assumption is that he was abandoned due to illness. He was then rescued by the Alaska SeaLife Center and brought to their facility for immediate treatment, as he was suffering from several different ailments including pneumonia, constipation, and fluid on the brain. After a month in care, his lung collapsed, which created an air pocket and made him buoyant so he couldn’t dive.
SeaWorld, Alaska SeaLife Center and other partners worked around the clock to care for Tyonek, determined to ensure his survival. It was a rough road and he eventually recovered, but because of his medical concerns and dependency on people, NOAA determined he would not survive on his own and within six months of his rescue, he was placed with SeaWorld San Antonio for long-term care.
One of the reasons why SeaWorld San Antonio was selected to be Tyonek’s home was because of the diversity found within our beluga pod. The pod is made up of experienced mothers, adult males, and calves close to his own age, giving Tyonek many different avenues for social learning. Tyonek, or Ty as his care team affectionately calls him, spends a lot of time with some of the other male belugas – Samson (8), Kenia (5), Innik (4), and Naluark (35). This is particularly important because it is through these relationships that he has been able to develop crucial social skills through play behavior.
Caption: Tyonek (Bottom) and Innik (Top). Activity conducted pursuant to NMFS ESA/MMPA Permit No. 22095
Today, Tyonek is thriving with his SeaWorld San Antonio beluga family. He has integrated very well into the pod, even taking on a teacher role for Tulok, a younger beluga calf. He engages in normal social and play behaviors and mimics the socio-sexual behaviors of the other belugas. It took a while for him to take a liking to fish because of his digestive issues, but now he’s eating quite a bit. At SeaWorld, he learned how to vocalize, how to play, and how to dive for fish. Ty also participates in husbandry behaviors (behaviors that allow animals to participate voluntarily in their own medical care), which include conditioned scale and blood draws. He’s also quite playful; Ty loves tongue and back rubs and splashing his human companions.
Most notably, Tyonek has formed a strong bond with Betty, a Pacific white-sided dolphin. The two can often be seen playing and interacting with each other. In fact, Betty is the first animal in our care that Tyonek chose to touch and interact with on his own.
Caption: Tyonek and Betty. Activity conducted pursuant to NMFS ESA/MMPA Permit No. 22095
While Ty’s story started out rough, we are happy to say he is has adjusted to life with his new pod. You would never know that he came from such rough beginnings. He is well-loved by staff and guests alike, and we are so grateful that he gets to live out his days with our pod.