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Beluga whale sighting reported in Taunton River

Beluga, or white, whales usually live in Canadian waters; one has been reported in the Taunton River, officials said.

INTERNATIONAL FUND FOR ANIMAL WELFARE

Beluga, or white, whales usually live in Canadian waters; one has been reported in the Taunton River, officials said.

It is an adventure few have attempted. But one brave beluga whale has been spotted in local waters.

“This whale is at least 1,000 miles from the closest known habitat,” said Brian Sharp, the manager of the marine mammal rescue division of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “We have no idea what it is doing here.”

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Beluga, or white, whales generally live in Canadian waters, but residents have sent the International Fund for Animal Welfare multiple cellphone photographs and videos of the animal in Gloucester Harbor and the Taunton River, Sharp said.

On June 15, the whale was spotted for the first time in the river. People reported it again on June 18, Sharp said. He said the sighting was exciting because beluga whales have only appeared in the state three times in the past 10 years.

A beluga whale was spotted again, on June 21, this time in Gloucester Harbor, said Maggie Mooney-Seus, a public affairs officer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

She said she is not sure if it is the same one that was seen earlier swimming in the Taunton River.

“It’s something different,” Sharp said in a phone interview. “We’re excited, but of course we are worried about the animal’s safety.”

The 2,000-pound animal seems healthy, according to Sharp. It may be shedding its skin, according to Mooney-Seus.

“It’s something we call molting,” Mooney-Seus said by phone. “They rub their bodies along the bottom of the water. It’s possible it traveled here to do this.”

Though researchers are unsure what the gender and the age of the whale are, they said it is an adult. Sharp said while it is rare that the mammals travel this far, it is possible the visiting whale is just adventurous. “She may have just wanted to explore new water,” Sharp said.

Whether Taunton’s guest is searching for new waters or just wandered too far from home, researchers ask that anyone who spots it report the sighting. The International Fund for Animal Welfare is available at 508-743-9548. People are asked to stay at least 150 feet from the animal.

“This is for both the safety of the whale and citizens,” Sharp said. “We want to make sure it doesn’t get stranded or stuck.”

Jacqueline Tempera can be reached at jacqueline.tempera@globe.com.
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