Genetic analysis shows Beluga whales in Puget Sound likely arrived from Arctic Waters

Asha Bajaj
2 min readOct 30, 2021

#BelugaWhale; #GeneticMaterial; #ArcticOcean; #NOAAFisheries

New York/Canadian-Media: Genetic material collected by the scientists from the beluga whale that was first sighted in Puget Sound in early October indicates that the whale has been originated likely from a large population of beluga whales in the Beaufort Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska, NOAA Fisheries News reported.

The whale appears to have traveled thousands of miles south around Alaska through the Bering Sea and south to Puget Sound and was last sighted on October 20 near Tacoma. The whale does not appear to be from the small and endangered Cook Inlet beluga population near Anchorage, Alaska.

The genetic analysis involved sequencing DNA extracted from a water sample collected near the beluga whale in Puget Sound earlier this month. This material is known as environmental DNA, or eDNA, because it comes from the skin, fecal, or other cellular debris found in the environment near the animal.

Beluga whales. Image credit: Twitter handle of Marine Connection

“The information that we can obtain from eDNA is more limited than what we can generate from a tissue sample, but can provide insight about where the whale is likely from,” said Dr. Kim Parsons, a research scientist at ’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Fisheries News reported.

Although the genetic sequence obtained from the whale is short it closely matches other beluga whales from the high Arctic and Beaufort Sea population, estimated at about 40,000 whales in 1992. The population migrates between the United States, Canada, and Russia.

Researchers are analyzing results from a more recent survey in 2019.

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 West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network is prepared to respond if the whale becomes stranded. Sightings should be passed along as soon as possible to Orca Network at (360) 331–3543. Please report any stranding onshore to the Stranding Hotline immediately at (866) 767–6114.

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Asha Bajaj

I write on national and international Health, Politics, Business, Education, Environment, Biodiversity, Science, First Nations, Humanitarian, gender, women