Rare Sighting of Beluga Whale in Massachusetts

Jun 26, 2014

"It's very rare to see a Beluga by itself this far south."
Tracy Romano

In Connecticut, we're used to seeing Beluga whales at Mystic Aquarium, but residents in Fall River, Massachusetts are getting an unusual sight in an unusual place. A Beluga whale was spotted in the Taunton River over the past several days. 

Credit National Park Service

"It's very rare to see a Beluga by itself this far south," Dr. Tracy Romano of Mystic Aquarium told WNPR. "It was last sighted here a week ago, on the 18th." 

Romano, Mystic Aquarium's Executive Vice President of Research and Zoological Operations, is leading the team while it looks for the whale in the Taunton River. She said Belugas prefer Arctic and sub-arctic waters, and travel in pods. "This unusual sighting in our own back yard is anomalous behavior for a Beluga," she said, "and we would like to find out why."

How did it make its way to the Taunton River? Romano said most likely, the Beluga came in from Rhode Island waters. She said the International Fund for Animal Welfare stated the whale appears to be about 2,000 pounds. Given the size, Romano predicted it's most likely an adult male Beluga.

From a report on Wednesday in the Taunton Gazette:

On June 18, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, acting on a report made three days earlier of a beluga whale swimming in the Taunton River, confirmed that it was a beluga after spotting it from an aircraft.

Since being spotted, the whale has been seen at various points on the river, from Somerset to Berkley to the Taunton Yacht Club in Dighton.

The arrival of the river’s newest inhabitant is raising many questions among residents and the marine science community.

“I wish we knew why (it is here),” said Brian Sharp, the manager of marine mammal rescue and research division at the IFAW.

Beluga whales are not native to this area. These animals are found in arctic and subarctic waters, with the southernmost group located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada.

Little is known about the creature in the Taunton River, including its age, gender and where it came from.

The team from Mystic Aquarium hopes to see the marine mammal for themselves to contribute to Mystic's ongoing study of the whales. Romano said, " And so on the behavior side, we're really trying to understand how changes in weather patterns and climate can impact their behavior and social groupings. Scientists at Mystic said the changing environment’s effect on Belugas and their health is a major concern affecting endangered Beluga populations worldwide.

They'll be updating the public, the scientific community, and the media continually via Twitter and other social media (#beluga), and are planning to release a progress report at 4:00 pm on Thursday.

Besides the team in Fall River, Mystic is conducting research in three different places in the Arctic to understand how climate change is impacting the Belugas.

Mystic Aquarium is the only one in the northeast with Beluga whales. Two males and a female live at the aquarium.