NOAA: Beluga whale in Puget Sound likely came from Alaskan waters

The beluga whale spotted in Puget Sound earlier this month is believed to be from the Beaufort Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska.

Scientists have collected genetic material from the beluga whale and have determined that the whale came from a large population of belugas in that area. 

The whale does not appear to be from the small and endangered Cook Inlet beluga population near Anchorage, Alaska, experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Experts believe the genetic sequence obtained from the whale closely matches other belugas from the Beaufort Sea and high Arctic. 

The Beaufort Sea population was estimated at about 40,000 whales in 1992. Researchers are analyzing results from a more recent survey in 2019. The population migrates between the United States, Canada, and Russia, according to NOAA. 

Beluga whales are known to occasionally roam beyond their usual range in Arctic waters. There have been several reports of beluga whales off the coast of Maine and as far south as New Jersey on the East Coast, and two specific accounts off Massachusetts. Another beluga was photographed off San Diego last summer.

The only previously documented sighting of a beluga whale in Puget Sound was in 1940 near Point Defiance.

The whale was last spotted on Oct. 20 near Tacoma. 

Sightings should be passed along as soon as possible to Orca Network at (360) 331-3543 or NOAA Fisheries at 1-866-767-6114.

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