A beluga in Puget Sound
Where did the beluga go?
The beluga was last seen October 14 in Admiralty Inlet near Lagoon Point. It's been stormy lately which could make it hard to see a beluga, but it's possible the beluga has left Puget Sound and gone either west out the Strait of Juan de Fuca or north up the inside of Vancouver Island, or just found new places to hang out in the Salish Sea.
Based on sightings reported to Orca Network, the last reported sighting was at 5:20pm Oct. 14 off Lagoon Point. Of note: the reporting party was viewing the Southern Residents who were transiting at the same time in the same area. She was doubtful that what she was seeing was an in inverted orca as the whale surfaced 3 times. There were many eyes on the Southern Residents at that time, but we received no other reports of a white whale.
Earlier that day Southern Residents had been in central Puget Sound heading north off Kingston about the time the beluga was in the same area, seen at 9:10am, 1 mile west of Elliott Bay Marina, and at 10:30am a mile off Golden Gardens/Shilshole Marina.
So the beluga was within a few miles of SRKWs in Puget Sound that morning, and then again that afternoon 25 miles away in Admiralty Inlet. No close associations were reported but the beluga was likely alongside the So. Residents as they traveled up Puget Sound and Admiralty Inlet.
A beluga whale was confirmed swimming around the inland waterways of Central Puget Sound since at least Sunday. 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.
Late Sunday, October 3rd, Orca Network received a surprising whale sighting report w/video from Jason Rogers taken about noon of what appeared to be a beluga whale in Central Puget Sound, specifically in Commencement Bay, Tacoma, Washington. We forwarded the video to NOAA, Cascadia Research, Center for Whale Research, WDFW, local marine mammal vets, and other experts who all concurred it was a beluga. We also received another Sunday report describing the beluga swimming around Point Defiance, Tacoma mid-morning. Monday, October 4th there was a 2nd confirmed sighting of the beluga swimming around in Elliott Bay in Seattle.
REPORT SIGHTINGS! If you see this beluga whale please report your sighting as close to real time as possible. Orca Network will refrain from posting real time but below is list of recent reported sightings of the beluga.
It is hoped that researchers can get on water as soon as possible to do a visual health assessment of the animal and collect photo ID shots and keep track of this whale.
Report sightings to the NOAA West Coast Region Stranding Hotline: 1-866-767-6114 o4r to our Whale Sighting Network at (360) 331-3543 or toll-free at (866) ORCANET (672-2638); or email firstname.lastname@example.org and cc: email@example.com.
PLEASE INCLUDE: Date & Time - Location of the beluga - Direction of Travel and any other details, and any photos and/or videos taken ethically and while observing minimum legal approach distances. (See image in comments for ID instructions for belugas, ideally their dorsal ridge, as much as can be photographed is what is needed.)
GIVE THIS WHALE SPACE! If you are on the water and encounter this whale please give this whale extra space. The law requires any vessel/watercraft to stay at least 100 yards, but please stay a greater distance. See all laws and guidelines at www.bewhalewise.org
Belugas are found throughout Arctic and sub-Arctic waters and in the USA in Alaska (per NOAA). They are protected throughout their range with some populations listed as depleted, and the Cook Inlet population listed as endangered. There is no information at this time to which population this whale belongs.
Much appreciation to all involved in the efforts to track and assess this beluga's health. Let's all put this beautiful whale's safety first and foremost above all else. We wish this lovely being the best possible outcome and a miraculous journey to find their way home.
Click here for the video sent by Jason Rogers from Oct. 3 in Commencement Bay.
Click here to see the American Cetacean Society beluga whale fact sheet.
NOAA Fisheries West Coast Puget Sound Beluga Information page
Puget Sound Beluga Q&A
When did Orca Network receive the first report of the beluga?
At 8:34pm, Oct. 3, we received a report from Amy and Jason Rogers, with a video of the beluga in Commencement Bay at 12:00 noon.
How did Orca Network get species ID confirmation?
We sent the video and report to NOAA stranding coordinators, Dr. Stephanie Norman who works with our Central Puget Sound MMSN (Stephanie conducted recent research on the Cook Inlet belugas) and with World Vets, WDFW, Center for Whale Research, Cascadia Research, OrcaSound, and others who are familiar with belugas. They all agreed that it was a beluga.
What does it mean to see a beluga in Commencement Bay? Why would this be significant?
We won't know until we have a better assessment of its health and behavior. At this point this seems to be a wandering beluga, which has happened but is very rare.
Have there been belugas seen in Puget Sound in the past?
The only documented report is from 1940 when the Washington Fish and Game Dept. reported a beluga in Puget Sound. That one was seen continuously for about 4 months. There have also been unconfirmed reports in the 1970s and an indirect report in Saratoga Passage in 2010, but without photos for documentation.
What are the biggest concerns about this sighting (outside of people rushing to see it)?
Mainly the noise and disturbance from too much boat and ship traffic getting too close or going too fast. Slow speeds under 7 knots dramatically reduce noise levels. Underwater noise could disrupt the whale's ability to echolocate or cause stress. Also toxins in the water or in the beluga's prey could impact its health.
Also, belugas are very social animals, so just the fact that this one is alone is concerning.
What role might climate change have to play in this sighting, if any?
Very hard to say if climate change prompted this beluga to travel here. Belugas are typically found in northern latitudes, so this one probably came south, which seems counter-intuitive that climate change would prompt a move southward.
Where is the beluga now?
Orca Network refrains from posting real time sightings. Not all sightings are 100% confirmed.
Sightings of the beluga in Puget Sound:
Thursday, Oct. 14, 17:20 - “520pm white colored whale (long body, no dorsal fin seen) surfaced 3 times, east channel Whidbey side north of Lagoon Point. Note: Members of J pod and other Southern Resident orcas were northbound in Admiralty Inlet off Lagoon Point at the same time.
Thursday, Oct. 14, 10:30 - Out fishing about mile off Golden Gardens/Shilshole. Beluga swam by heading northbound at 10:30.
Thursday, Oct. 14, 09:10 - Spotted the beluga whale due west of Elliott Bay Marina.
Wednesday, Oct. 13, 17:25 - Must have been the Beluga, white animal, smaller than an orca and like no one they’ve ever seen. Whale was north end of Tacoma Narrows, in general between Salmon Beach and Pt Defiance heading heading northbound mid channel just traveling. Viewing from Gig Harbor side.
Tuesday, Oct. 12, 16:40 - The Beluga whale heading south under center span Tacoma Narrows bridge.
Tuesday, Oct. 12, 11:30 - The Beluga is off Redondo Beach, south of Des Moines, just west of Poverty Bay. Swimming southbound following shoreline close inshore. 100% is Beluga. No photos.
Monday, Oct. 11, 18:00 - (Possible sighting not reported as any species, but Beluga seen south next day so possibly?)
At I saw two blows from Constellation Park in West Seattle; mid channel line of sight to Blake Island. One more blow clearly east of mid channel at 18:10. Never did see the animal, but obviously not an orca with no fin visible.
Monday, Oct. 11, 09:51 - (confirmed) WSF Marine Ops emailed to report: Beluga Whale at Mukilteo ferry dock, heading in a northbound direction, toward Everett.
Monday, Oct. 11, 09:23 - Beluga Sighting on the east side of Possession Sound heading north between Picnic Point park and Mukilteo Light House park. I would say 100% confident it was a Beluga. Large white with no dorsal.
Sunday, Oct. 10, 15:00 - Commencement Bay. Good photos.
Saturday, Oct 9, 15:50 - Beluga between Tacoma waterfront and Vashon heading southbound, middle of the Sound. Surfacing normal.
Saturday, Oct. 9, 14:00 - Beluga seen in Commencement Bay from 39th St. overlook, out milling in front of the paper mill about 700 yards from shore for about 45 minutes.
Saturday, Oct. 9, 13:40 - Chelsea Kent called to report seeing the Beluga whale multiple times in Commencement Bay at140pm Saturday, October 9th. Beluga is swimming from Ruston Way side northbound about 1 mile north of two military ships. There are a bunch of boats
Saturday, Oct. 9, 10:40 - Whale was heading southbound under Tacoma Narrows bridge, mid-channel.
Friday, Oct. 8, 18:00 - a call reporting possible beluga between south end Day Island and Fox Island just resting with tail up.
Friday, Oct. 8, 14:45 - beluga southbound under Narrows.
Friday, Oct. 8, 10:15 - from aboard Schooner Adventuress - Middle of Commencement Bay.
Thursday, Oct. 7, 21:37 - hearing the beluga, or so he believes. He did not see the beluga. He was sitting in his boat w/engine for about an hour, when he heard high pitched squeaks, it didn’t register at first since sound was above water, but when he came back later and saw the research boats and helicopter in Commencement Bay with the beluga he does believe that is who he heard.
Thursday, Oct. 7, 18:00 - Beluga whale in Commencement Bay between Chinese Reconciliation Park and Thea Foss waterway about 100 meters form the bow of the two naval ships anchored in the bay. Beluga was going back and forth several times. At last sighting the whale was heading away from Thea Foss waterway in NW direction.
Thursday, Oct. 7, 18:00 - Thea Foss - between Chinese Reconciliation Park and Thea Foss waterway at times about 100 metered off bow of anchored naval ships.
Thursday, Oct. 7, 12:15 - Whale was in Commencement Bay along the Tacoma waterfront, directly out from 2100 block Ruston Way (approx between Jack Hyde park and Cloud Inn) along Ruston way heading Northwest toward Point Defiance, ~ 100 yards from shore
Thursday, Oct. 7, 10:30 - Out salmon fishing in Commencement Bay near the 2 anchored yellow buoys. The whale was snow white, definitely beluga.
Thursday, Oct. 7, 09:23 - Foss sighting (SE) - North Commencement Bay heading towards Hylebos waterway.
Wednesday, Oct. 6, ~18:00 - Saw it off of 1300 block of Alki. It was heading towards Seattle.
Wednesday, Oct. 6, ~1130 - The whale was swimming around the shipyard in Bremerton.
Wednesday, Oct. 6, ~09:30 - At Puget sound naval shipyard, Sinclair Inlet.
Tuesday, Oct. 5, 18:00 - off Alki (not confirmed).
Tuesday, Oct. 5, 11:30 - Bremerton - "whale was swimming around the shipyard in Bremerton.
Monday, Oct. 4, 17:20 - Jack Block Park, Elliott Bay, “near the barges.”
Sunday, Oct. 3, time TBD - Commencement Bay sighting: "saw something white in the water Sunday morning near Browns Point."
Sunday, Oct. 3, 12:00 - Commencement Bay - Video by Jason Rogers shared on Facebook and with Komo https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=229185192523265
Sunday, Oct.3, 09:00 - Point Defiance: "They encountered the Beluga on while fishing off Point Defiance.
Saturday, Oct. 2, 11:30 - Fox Island - between Point Gibson, Fox Island and Toliva Shoal buoy around noon on Sunday. Unconfirmed.
Saturday, Oct. 2, time TBD - swimming past Chambers Bay toward Steilacoom.
Thursday, Sept. 30, 17:00 - possible hearing? Bird-like sounds at Lime Kiln 15 min before SRKW calls; Scott flags unusual vocalizations at Orcasound Lab about the same time.
Sunday, Sept. 26, 13:00 - Sansum Narrows - SE-bound - "It surfaced and blew 4 times near us. Heading from mouth of cowichan bay BC towards southern tip of Saltspring Island."
Pre-2021 beluga sightings
~2011: Saratoga Passage - "there was a reliable report of a beluga in Saratoga Passage in 2010, but no photo."
1940 April 24: "Tacoma" - From Lynda Mapes: Seattle Times - 10/06: "The April 24, 1940, edition of the Tacoma Times carried the story of an unknown grayish, whitish sea mammal seen by the locals as page-one news: "it headed for Olympia to speak to the governor.”
"A beluga was in Tacoma April 1940. (Scheffer and Slipp (1948)" Records show that the beluga remained in Puget Sound for 3-4 months.
Orca Network's most recent Whale Sightings Report with information on the beluga.
Where is it likely from? What else do we know about it?
We don't know where this beluga came from. The closest known population of belugas is the critically endangered Cook Inlet Alaska population, about 1500 miles to the north. With a good side view photograph of the beluga researchers will compare it with the catalog of the Cook Inlet population to see if this one possibly came from there.
So far this beluga seems to be in good condition and is actively travelling and diving.
Is anything being done for this whale?
At this time, Orca Network, NOAA Fisheries, WDFW and researchers are attempting to track the whales' travels, assess his/her physical condition, and obtain photo identification to determine whether this beluga is part of the critically endangered Cook Inlet, AK beluga community, or from the Bristol Bay, AK population, or possibly from the population of belugas in Russia.
This is considered a whale out of its usual habitat, but it is not stranded, and if it is healthy and finding enough to eat (their usual prey items are found in Puget Sound), it is likely the whale will continue to be observed, with the hopes of her/him finding the way out of Puget Sound and back north soon.
In the last decade we have had two sightings of a Ribbon seal, who inhabit the waters of the Arctic and Subarctic polar regions, in the Salish Sea, so it is not unheard of to have individuals explore other areas. Last year a beluga whale showed up off San Diego, even further out of its usual habitat.