Alaska’s most famous baby beluga whale has died.
Two Alaska fisherman had discovered the baby beluga dehydrated and disoriented in a shallow area of Bristol Bay on June 18. That led to a frantic rescue by the Alaska SeaLife Center, which grounded local flights while it airlifted the beluga calf to the center.
An employee with the center confirmed the death to the Los Angeles Times on Monday, but officials at the center were not immediately available for further comment. According a report from the Anchorage Daily News, the calf died around midnight Sunday. The cause was not immediately known, and a necropsy was scheduled.
“They were actually surprised that ... we were able to keep the calf going so well for so long,” Tara Riemer Jones, president of the Alaska SeaLife Center, told the Anchorage Daily News. “This was way beyond the expectations for that team.”
The rescue effort was considered rare, if not unprecedented. Teams from Chicago, Atlanta and San Diego flew into Alaska to care for the calf, which required around-the-clock feeding and care.
The beluga probably had been separated from its mother during a windstorm off the southwestern coast of Alaska, leaving its immune system vulnerable without antibodies from its mother’s milk, Jones previously told The Times. (Whales, like humans, are mammals, and both use milk to nourish their young.)
The Associated Press reported the beluga had three caregivers around the clock at a cost of $2,000 a day.
Brett Long, the center’s husbandry director, had told the AP that survival rates for an orphaned beluga calf at this age were low. Its death erases hopes that the calf might have become the first known successful rescue in similar circumstances.