A beluga whale was spotted in Puget Sound for the first time since 1940 in the first week of October. (Photo courtesy of Jason Rogers/ NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region on Twitter)

A beluga whale was spotted in Puget Sound for the first time since 1940 in the first week of October. (Photo courtesy of Jason Rogers/ NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region on Twitter)

Beluga whale traverses B.C. waters on way to first Puget Sound sighting since 1940

Scientists are asking why the trip to Tacoma

A white whale’s trip to Tacoma in the first week of October has raised some questions about the rare oceanic occurrence, mainly why did a beluga whale visit Puget Sound for the first time in more than eight decades?

“We are closely tracking sightings of a beluga whale in the Puget Sound area, hundreds of miles outside its usual range,” the North Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Oct. 6.

The agency on Friday confirmed the beluga was in the southern end of Puget Sound, near Commencement Bay, a spokesperson told Black Press Media. The whale traversed B.C.’s waters, but it’s currently unknown which side of Vancouver Island it used on the journey south.

There’s also no answer to what brought the animal to Tacoma.

“The ‘why’ remains a mystery,” said Michael Milstein, a public affairs officer with NOAA’s West Coast regional office.

A team observed and photographed the white whale for eight hours on Oct. 7 and they’re comparing the images with ones of known belugas in Alaska, Milstein said. The last known sighting of a beluga in Puget Sound was in 1940.

Belugas live in the Arctic Ocean and subarctic areas. They’re commonly found in many regions of Alaska, but also in the waters of Canada, Russia and Greenland, according to NOAA. The whales find home in shallow coastal areas during the summer before returning to deeper waters in other seasons. They also seasonally inhabit estuaries and large river deltas to feed on fish runs, so they’re adapted to cold ocean and warmer freshwater habitats.

Milstein said a beluga was documented off of San Diego last year and there’s been a number of “wayward” belugas in the Atlantic Ocean.

NOAA said anyone who sees a whale should follow Whale Wise Guidelines (https://www.bewhalewise.org/). Canadian law requires boats to keep at least 100 meters away from whales in Pacific waters that aren’t orcas. Washington state law also says boats need to keep 100 meters of distance.

Boaters were in disbelief as they videoed the whale swimming near Tacoma on Oct. 3.

“Oh my gosh, what is that?” a person is heard saying during the video. “Is it a…it can’t be a beluga.”

READ: Entangled mother humpback needs help before she sails into the West Coast sunset


Do you have a story tip? Email: jake.romphf@blackpress.ca.

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