Two beluga whales and one Pacific white-sided dolphin have recently given birth at the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, which re-opened to the public in July. Bella, a fourteen-year-old beluga whale, is a first-time mother. She gave birth to a male calf on Friday, August 21, A.D. 2020 at 8:42 p.m. after being in labor for almost fifteen hours. Naya, a thirty-one-year-old beluga whale, gave birth to a calf on Sunday, August 30, A.D. 2020 around 7:00 p.m. Less than twelve hours later, Katrl, a thirty-three-year-old Pacific white-sided dolphin, gave birth on Monday, August 31, A.D. 2020 around 6:20 a.m. after being in labor for two hours. Last year, on Wednesday, July 3, 2019, the beluga whale Mauyuk (pronounced My-yack) gave birth to a male calf the public later voted to name Annik (pronounced AH-nik).
Whales and dolphins alike are cetaceans, which are aquatic mammals with streamlined bodies. There are two parvorders of cetaceans. Odontoceti are toothed whales. The seventy-three species in this order include the dolphin (including orcas (also known as killer whales); the beluga whale; the narwhal; the sperm whale; and the beaked whale. Mysticeti are baleen whales. The species in this order are the blue whale, the right whale, the bowhead whale, the rorqual, and the gray whale.
Most beluga whale calves are born tail-first, but Bella’s calf was born head-first. Despite the disadvantage of not being able to unfurl his flukes before the final push, which would have made it easier for him to swim to the surface to take his first breath, he was able to propel himself upward.
He was not able to begin nursing independently immediately, but that is frequently the case with beluga whale calves. Consequently, the animal care staff had to assist with feeding the calf.
This calf weighed 139 pounds and measured 5’3” in length. At the time the Shedd Aquarium announced the birth of Bella’s calf, three days later on Monday, August 24, A.D. 2020, the Shedd Aquarium assured the public, “Mom and calf are spending time alone behind the scenes to bond and focus on care.” However, the Shedd Aquarium also warned the public, “Bella is a first-time mother, and current scientific knowledge of belugas and dolphins is that first-time mothers often experience a higher calf mortality rate… The animal care team remains cautiously optimistic and will continue around-the-clock monitoring to ensure that mom and calf have all the support that they need.”
“As the calf swam to the surface and took its first breath, it brought with it the palpable hope of new life and fresh beginnings – something we all appreciate,” stated Dr. Bridget Coughlin, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Shedd Aquarium. “We at Shedd Aquarium continue to be humbled by the opportunity we have to share the excitement with the public and create meaningful moments of wonder and learning through the aquatic animal world.”
“Beluga gestation is more than a year long, and we used this time for careful preparations and planning,” stated Peggy Sloan, Chief Animal Operations Officer at the Shedd Aquarium. “Our animal care team is thrilled and grateful for this calf’s healthy and successful arrival. The birth is a testament to our commitment to belugas across the globe, as we are even better positioned to contribute to rescue efforts, policy-making and research meant to safeguard belugas in need.”
In recent years, the Shedd Aquarium has assisted with the rescue and rehabilitation of two juvenile beluga whales. One was in the St. Lawrence Estuary and the other was in Alaska’s Cook Inlet.
In actuality, Naya delivered two calves on August 30th. The Shedd Aquarium stated this was “an incredibly rare event that scientists believe occurs at a rate of less than 1% for the species.” Unfortunately, Naya’s calf that was born at 7:00 p.m. is her surviving calf, as hours after that calf’s birth, a twin was delivered stillborn. Shedd Aquarium staff members believe this is only the second time that a calf twin survived in any cetacean species. There are no recorded cases of beluga whale twins being born in the wild.
Naya’s calf weighed sixty-six pounds. One need only recall that Bella’s calf weighed 139 pounds to comprehend that Nay’s calf is considered underweight. Naya herself was recovering normally.
As for Katrl’s calf born on August 31st, she helped her offspring reach the surface to breath for the first time. She was recovering normally from the birth at the time the Shedd aquarium made the announcement on Tuesday, September 1, A.D. 2020.
“As we celebrate our new additions, we recognize the need to do all we can to support the mothers, and calves, so that they thrive,” stated Ms. Sloan. “In an extraordinary year of unpredictability, Naya’s historic pregnancy highlights our need to understand beluga reproduction. It also underscored that every birth is significant and contributes to advancing science. Even with a difficult outcome, such as the stillbirth of one of Nay’s twins, we understand the cycle of life and loss and continuously strive to learn from these experiences.”
The public can check the Shedd Aquarium’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages for updates about Bella, Naya, Katrl, and their calves. Depending on how one defines the word “animal,” the Shedd Aquarium cares for 32,000 animals.
Naya’s Surviving Calf
The Shedd Aquarium is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and until 6:00 p.m. on weekends. It is located on the Museum Campus in the Chicago Park District’s Burnham Park, across from Grant Park in downtownChicago. The address is 1200 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago Illinois 60605. The Website is https://www.sheddaquarium.org/. The phone number is (312) 939-2438. To find out about precautions the Shedd aquarium is taking and protocols it is following as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, go to my article about the re-opening of the Lincoln Park Zoo, Brookfield Zoo, and Shedd Aquarium and scroll down to the section on the Shedd Aquarium or check this Webpage: https://www.sheddaquarium.org/plan-a-visit.
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