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News : Health Jun 27, 2014 - 6:11:31 AM

Mystic Aquarium Scientists Tracking Unusual Whale Activity in Fall River and Nantucket

By Mystic Aquarium

Whale Behavior Experts Seek Reasons for Taunton River Sightings of Belugas and Pod of Orcas off Nantucket

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MYSTIC, CT - Researchers from Mystic Aquarium, the only aquarium in the Northeastern U.S. with Beluga whales on-site for study and exhibition, are in Fall River, Mass., at the Taunton River today to determine what has brought a young Beluga so far from its usual habitat.

In addition, the scientists are closely monitoring a U.S. Coast Guard sighting of a pod of Orcas 150 miles off Nantucket, Mass.

The urgent effort is being led in Fall River by Dr. Tracy Romano, Executive Vice President of Research and Zoological Operations at Mystic Aquarium. Dr. Paul Anderson of Mystic Aquarium’s Research Center is also on the team to track the whale’s movements and gather data for study. The scientists are also working closely with the U.S. Coast Guard to determine where the pod of Orcas is heading.

“We are intimately involved in Beluga research with our animals at Mystic Aquarium, and travel to the Arctic every year to study them in their natural habitat,” said Dr. Romano. “This unusual sighting in our own back yard is anomalous behavior for a Beluga and we would like to find out why.”

Mystic Aquarium scientists will be updating the public, the scientific community and the media continually via Twitter and other social media (#beluga), and will release a progress report at 4 p.m. Thursday, June 26.

The young, white-colored marine mammal has been spotted in the Taunton River several times over the past week. Normally, Belugas keep to colder waters where they live in pods and hunt native food supplies. Mystic Scientists spend six weeks every summer at Cunningham Inlet in Nunavut, Canada and in Point Lay and Bristol Bay, Alaska, studying the behavioral ecology of the wild Beluga population there. The changing environment’s effect on Belugas and their health is a major concern affecting endangered Beluga populations worldwide.

Researchers from Mystic are North America’s most experienced at working with and studying the health of Beluga whales. The Aquarium has three Belugas in residence:

KELA (KEE-la): Born in 1981, Kela is 11 feet long and weighs 1,100 pounds.?She has never mothered a calf, but underwent the first-ever beluga whale artificial insemination in 2005. Her full name, Kelalukak, means “leader.”
*ID TIP: Kela has dark gray spots along the side of her body and dorsal ridge.

JUNO (JOO-No): Juno was born in July 2002. He came to Mystic Aquarium on a breeding loan from SeaWorld Orlando in January 2010. Juno is 11 feet, nine inches long and weighs 1,320 pounds. He is usually the one watching the people at the underwater viewing area. ?*ID TIP: Juno has gray circles around his eyes.

NALUARK (Na-LOO-ark): Born in 1986, Naluark, an Inuit word meaning “whitened skin,” weighs 2,100 pounds and is just over 13 feet long.  Naluark came to Mystic Aquarium on breeding loan from Chicago's John G. Shedd Aquarium in October 2011.
*ID TIP: Naluark is pure white in color and the largest of our four belugas. He has a large melon, a cleft lip and pronounced rails on either side of his body.

The Ocean Research and Conservation Center at Mystic Aquarium conducts research that contributes to the protection and conservation of our oceans. Ground-breaking research includes developing non-invasive technologies as alternatives to blood sampling to monitor the health of marine mammals, and cloning genes to study the evolution of the immune system and how the genes differ from humans and terrestrial mammals.

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