Three beluga whales spotted in Narragansett Bay are healthy adult males, likely from the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada.
(Video courtesy of Matt Jarbeau)
Bob Kenney, an emeritus marine research scientist at the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography, said there’s no particular reason why the beluga whales have wandered away from the Arctic, their natural habitat. They do that once in a while, like a few years ago when they were spotted in New Jersey. They were also spotted in Narragansett Bay last summer. Kenney said there’s an evolutionary benefit to getting lost once in a while.
“Some animals wander and by wandering they may discover a new habitat that’s a good spot or re-colonize in some place that they’ve gotten wiped out of once before,” said Kenney.
Kenney said the Beluga whales are feasting on lots of menhaden, a fish commonly found in Narragansett Bay.
Workers at the East Greenwich Yacht Club watched in surprise as the whales swam close to the boats. Club steward Matt Jarbeau said he had seen the three whales over the weekend, but was still surprised by their close proximity.
Jarbeau and his colleagues “heard a splash. We thought it was a typical duck or cormorant surfacing from underneath the water. And we turned around and there were three of the belugas right next to our boat.”
The Mystic Aquarium is collaborating with the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network to monitor the whales and identify them. Researchers are trying to confirm if the belugas are from the St. Lawrence estuary, where the beluga population is less than 1,000.
Belugas are protected by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. Approaching them too close and disturbing them is punishable by law.
Note: This post has been updated.
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