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FAIRBANKS A wayward beluga whale swam more than 400 miles up the Yukon River from Norton Sound, made a sharp turn north at the Koyukuk River and was last spotted about 145 miles upstream heading for Allakaket.
"This is the biggest excitement ever," Thelma Williams Nicholia, Hughes city administrator, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on Friday. "No one's ever seen a whale around here, not even the elders."
Village children were let out of school and taken by riverboat for whale watching.
Hughes, population 78, is about 210 miles northwest of Fairbanks.
Ralph Williams, who lives about a half mile down river from Hughes, first spotted the whale about 7:30 Friday morning.
"He heard something outside and thought it was a moose," Nicholia said. "He looked out towards the river and there was the whale. It was coming up for air and shooting water. He couldn't believe his eyes."
Williams crossed the river and alerted villagers. A small convoy of riverboats began to form to trail the visitor.
"It must be a crazy whale," Lester Sam of Hughes said. "I was so excited about it. I don't expect to see that thing around here."
Bob Small, marine mammals coordinator for the state, concluded the whale was a sub-adult when he heard it was gray and 12 to 15 feet long. Full grown belugas are white.
Small said there most likely will be no rescue effort attempted to turn the beluga around.
"In a situation like this we should just let the animal figure it out," he said. "They're intelligent animals and not worth our while to get in the water and do something to it."