TRENTON, N.J. — Hopes that a beluga whale would head back to sea after swimming up the Delaware River proved unfounded, and experts were now planning to get a closer look Thursday to check on its health.
Bob Schoelkopf, director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, told NBC's "Today" show that while the beluga "looks pretty robust" now, how it holds up in fresh water "is one of the critical problems we may be facing."
A vet hopes to get a closer look at the whale later Thursday, he added.
On Wednesday, the 10- to 12-foot white whale was spotted near Beverly, about eight miles south of the point where it was first spotted around noon Tuesday at Trenton, where it drew hundreds of camera-toting spectators.
Swimming north again
But the whale has since stopped heading towards the sea and was again moving north, Schoelkopf said.
The whale was first spotted downstream from the city’s famed “Trenton Makes The World Takes” bridge, which spans the river at the uppermost reach of its tidal waters.
Schoelkopf said the whale may be a juvenile that wasn’t seaworthy or an adult that chased a school of herring up the river. Typically, beluga whales travel in large groups but spread out when feeding.
Swam past Philadelphia
The whale had to swim directly past the city of Philadelphia, some 80 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to Trenton.
Belugas usually remain in arctic waters, their native habitat. The word Beluga comes from the Russian word for white, which is the color of their skin. They are not a threatened or endangered species, with the global population estimated at 200,000.
A right whale — named Waldo the Wrong-Way Right Whale by Philadelphians — straggled into the Delaware River in 1995. The whale beached itself at an oil terminal in Pennsauken, N.J., but disappeared after about 10 days. It was found two years later swimming near Canada.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.