A snow-white beluga whale breaks the surface of the ocean in a protected inland sound. This is an Alaska whale, but it's not in Alaska. it's in Puget Sound, near Tacoma, Washington. This beluga is a long way from its home in the Beaufort Sea.
In October of 2021, a beluga from Alaska's arctic waters was seen multiple times in Puget Sound. Biologists with NOAA Fisheries obtained and analyzed genetic material from the beluga. It matches other belugas found in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas - a population that typically moves through Arctic waters off Alaska, Canada and Russia.
Biologists don't know what might have caused the beluga to wander thousands of miles south on its own. However, beluga whales are known to sometimes roam beyond their normal area in Arctic waters.
Biologists conducted a genetic analysis of DNA taken from a water sample in Puget Sound near the whale. This material is referred to as environmental DNA. The information that can be obtained from environmental DNA is more limited than what can be generated from a tissue sample, but it does provide insights. The far-flung beluga was last seen on Oct. 20 near Tacoma, Washington.