This week, staff at the Shedd Aquarium, a world-class leader in global marine mammal conservation and research, welcomed a baby beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) calf!
Beluga whale mother, Mauyak (MAH-yak), successfully gave birth to her healthy calf at approximately 2 a.m. on Monday, August 27. Shedd’s animal care team estimates that the calf is 4½ feet long and weighs approximately 150 pounds. Both mother and calf appear to be doing well and will remain under 24-hour observation by the animal health staff in Shedd’s Abbott Oceanarium.
“We are thrilled to welcome the newest member of the Shedd Aquarium family. A newborn calf must reach several milestones in its first days and months so we remain cautious; however, the calf has demonstrated incredible progress,” said Ken Ramirez, executive vice president of animal care and training at Shedd. “Mauyak is an experienced mom having given birth to two calves in the past, so the labor was quick and went very smoothly.”
“In less than 24 hours after birth, the calf achieved the first critical milestones that we look for, including taking its first breath, bonding with mom and we’ve seen attempts at nursing,” continued Ramirez, who has nearly four decades of marine mammal expertise, including serving as the past president of the International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association (IMATA). “Shedd’s long history of research and care of these animals tells us that these initial behaviors indicate a strong calf; but we will continue to monitor for signs of development, including steady nursing and growth.”
Animal care is Shedd’s top priority, so mother and calf are currently off exhibit in the Secluded Bay habitat of the Abbott Oceanarium. During the first few critical days following a birth, Shedd’s animal care experts do not physically interact with the whales. Instead, the team observes day and night, allowing time for the mother to nurture her newborn and build a strong bond. As a result, the marine mammal staff has not determined the calf’s gender through a physical examination.
The beluga calf arrives just under three months after Shedd celebrated the successful birth of its first Pacific white-sided dolphin calf on Memorial Day. Guests can see dolphin mom Piquet (pee-KEHT) and her male calf in Misty Passage of the Abbott Oceanarium. The coastal walkway of Secluded Bay will be open to guests, but panels in that area as well as in the underwater viewing gallery of Polar Play Zone will allow privacy for Mauyak and her calf during this time.
Mauyak came to Shedd in 1997 from Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash. as part of the aquarium’s involvement in the North American beluga whale breeding cooperative. The newborn calf’s father, Naluark, is currently on a breeding exchange at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut as part of a coordinated whale breeding effort. Shedd is one of seven North American zoological institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA) that manage the health and future of the beluga whales in their care through these coordinated breeding partnerships. Today, more than 35 beluga whales are part of the North American breeding cooperative program. Shedd Aquarium is home to seven belugas, including the calf.
“Each birth provides the international scientific community with vital knowledge about the reproductive health and life cycles of beluga whales,” said Tim Binder, a 22-year marine mammal researcher and vice president of animal collections at Shedd. “The understanding gained from this incredible birth supplements the ongoing studies about this magnificent species happening beyond the aquarium walls.
The newborn is the sixth successful birth as part of Shedd’s collaboration in the beluga whale breeding cooperative. The other belugas born at Shedd include Kayavak (KYE-yah-VOK) in 1999; Qannik (kah- NIK) in 2000; Bella in 2006; Miki (MEE-kee) in 2007; and Nunavik (NOO-nah-VIK) in 2009.