A newly renovated Oceanarium isn’t all that Shedd’s marine mammal trainers have been excited about lately; several months ago, blood tests and ultrasound exams – routine veterinary procedures performed on all our marine mammals – revealed that two beluga whales are pregnant!
Kelly Schaaf, a senior trainer in the marine mammals department, is one of the staff members caring for the expectant females. “In a lot of ways,” Kelly said, “the routine stays the same. We still do training sessions and let them interact with other whales.” The frequency of routine examinations has increased, however, as staff members try to determine how far along each pregnancy is (belugas gestate between 14 and 16 months!) and continue to monitor the health of the mothers. When physical cues indicate that labor is near for each mom, she will be moved to a separate habitat, and veterinarians will watch and wait. Wait is the key word. Kelly notes, “The actual birthing process can take several hours.”
Kelly and the rest of the marine mammal staffers are excited because the birth of healthy calves would be not only be great for Shedd but “also would be good for the zoo and aquarium community.” Shedd is a member of the North American beluga breeding cooperative, a group that helps ensure healthy beluga populations in zoos and aquariums.
Visit Shedd soon and say hello to our pregnant whales; both are expected to give birth before November. While you’re here, thank Kelly and the other staff members who do a fantastic job caring for more than 32,000 animals, pregnant or not.
Posted by Karen Furnweger, web editor