“Beluga Whale, Dolphin Births at the Shedd Aquarium”

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.

Bella’s Calf

Figure 1 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Brenna Hernandez Caption: This is Bella’s calf approaching the surface in the Shedd Aquarium’s Abbott Oceanarium.

Figure 2 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Brenna Hernandez Caption:  This is Bella’s calf breaching the surface to breath.

Figure 3 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Brenna Hernandez Caption: This is Bella’s male calf born on Friday, August 21, A.D. 2020.

Figure 4 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Brenna Hernandez Caption: Bella’s calf weighed 139 pounds and measured 5’3” in length at the time of his birth.

Figure 5 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Brenna Hernandez Caption:  Bella’s calf was the second beluga whale calf born in two years, as Annik was born to Mauyuk on Wednesday, July 3, 2019 and was also a male like Annik.

Figure 6 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Brenna Hernandez Caption: This is a view of Bella’s calf in the Abbott Oceanarium as seen from the Underwater Viewing area on Lower Level 2.

Figure 7 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Brenna Hernandez Caption: This is a view of Bella’s calf as seen from the Underwater Viewing area on Lower Level 2 of the Shedd Aquarium’s Abbott Oceanarium mere hours after his birth.

Figure 8 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Brenna Hernandez Caption: This is a photo of people viewing Bella’s calf in the Underwater Viewing area on Lower Level 2 of the Shedd Aquarium’s Abbott Oceanarium a few hours after his birth.

Naya’s Surviving Calf

Figure 9 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Eva Ho and Brenna Hernandez Caption: This is Naya’s surviving calf born on Sunday, August 30, A.D. 2020 at 7:00 p.m.  Unfortunately, its twin was delivered stillborn.

Figure 10 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Eva Ho and Brenna Hernandez Caption: Shedd Aquarium staff members believe Naya’s calf is only the second time that a calf twin survived in any cetacean species. 

Figure 11 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Eva Ho and Brenna Hernandez Caption: Naya’s surviving calf is noticeably smaller than Bella’s calf born nine days earlier.

Figure 12 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Eva Ho and Brenna Hernandez Caption: Naya’s calf, born on August 30, A.D. 2020, weighed only sixty-six pounds at birth.

Figure 13 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Eva Ho and Brenna Hernandez Caption: The Shedd Aquarium stated that the birth of twin beluga whales was “an incredibly rare event that scientists believe occurs at a rate of less than 1% for the species.”

Figure 14 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Eva Ho and Brenna Hernandez Caption: Naya swam with her surviving calf in the Shedd Aquarium’s Abbott Oceanarium.

Figure 15 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Eva Ho and Brenna Hernandez Caption: There are no documented cases of beluga twins born in the wild.

Figure 16 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Eva Ho and Brenna Hernandez Caption: As we can see here, adult beluga whales like mother Naya have snow-white skin.  Underneath that skin is a layer of blubber.  These factors allow beluga whales to survive in the coastal waters of the Arctic Ocean.

Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Eva Ho and Brenna Hernandez Caption: Beluga whales produce a variety of noises, including chirps, clicks, squeals, and whistles in their nasal passages, and broadcast them through their blowholes.

Figure 18 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Eva Ho and Brenna Hernandez Caption: The Shedd Aquarium and the Georgia Aquarium fund research conducted by the Alaska Fish & Wildlife Service on beluga habitat, foraging, and the impact on beluga whales of noise pollution.  The number of beluga whales in Alaska’s Cook Inlet has declined from approximately 1,300 individuals to 340.

Katrl’s Calf

Figure 19 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Brenna Hernandez Caption: Katrl, a thirty-three-year-old Pacific white-sided dolphin, gave birth at the Shedd Aquarium’s Abbott Oceanarium on Monday, August 31, A.D. 2020.

Figure 20 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Brenna Hernandez Caption: Katrl the Pacific white-sided dolphin gave birth to her calf less than twelve hours after Naya the beluga whale gave birth to her calf at the Shedd Aquarium’s Abbott Oceanarium.

Figure 21 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Brenna Hernandez Caption: Immediately after she gave birth, Katrl helped her calf swim to the surface to breath.

Figure 22 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Brenna Hernandez Caption: Pacific white-sided dolphins use echolocation to hunt schools of fish, including herring and capelin.

Figure 23 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Brenna Hernandez Caption: Pacific white-sided dolphins can reach top speeds of twenty-five miles per hour.

Figure 24 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Brenna Hernandez Caption: “It’s hard to monitor and track them in the wild, so pretty much everything we know about young Pacific white-sided dolphins growing up we’ve learned in aquariums and zoos,” stated Maris Muzzy, Cetacean Manager.  Only three American aquariums have Pacific white-sided dolphins.

Figure 25 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Brenna Hernandez Caption: Katrl means “to breath air” in the Tlingit language.  She was about six years old when she arrived at the Shedd Aquarium in December of 1993.  She was thirty-three when she gave birth to this calf.

Figure 26 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Brenna Hernandez Caption: Katrl is the largest of the Pacific white-sided dolphins at the Shedd Aquarium.  She is seven feet long and weighs 280 pounds.

Figure 27 Credit: © Shedd Aquarium Brenna Hernandez Caption: Visitors to the Shedd Aquarium can recognize Katrl (seen here with her calf) because she is both the largest dolphin at the Shedd Aquarium and has a wide stripe on the leading edge of her triangular-shaped dorsal fin.

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

Help Keep the Lights On

If you like this content, you can help keep more of it coming with a one-time donation of as little as $1.

$1.00

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close