Mother beluga and baby beluga swimmingMauyak’s calf made her media debut today. About 5 feet long and weighing more than 200 pounds, the 8-week-old slate gray baby beluga drew oohs and aahs from press gathered at the underwater viewing windows of Secluded Bay as she cruised around the 400,000-gallon habitat with mom or confidently sailed off on her own.

But she touched base with mom about every 30 minutes for a couple of quick drinks of milk. And while it is difficult to estimate how much of Mauyak’s rich-as-half-and-half milk she takes in during her 20 minutes of nursing each day, it is enough for her to gain between 12 and 15 pounds a week. (And mom’s diet has gone from 32 pounds of fish a day to a whopping 88 pounds to keep up milk production.) The calf is growing so fast that she is already sloughing, or shedding, her skin in swatches, so she looks a little rough in places.

The calf won’t have a taste for fish for a few more months, but she already loves to play with any capelin or mackerel mom drops. She was even spotted nursing with a fish hanging from her mouth.

You might see a third beluga in with Mauyak and her calf—Naya, a 23-year-old female beluga who helped raise the aquarium’s five earlier beluga calves. And the little whale and Shedd’s other new calf, nearly 5-month-old Pacific white-sided dolphin Sagu, have checked out each other through the mesh that separates the Abbott Oceanarium’s pools. The interest was short-lived as each got back to more important things, such as eating and playing.

The beluga calf interacts with the trainers during mom’s sessions, inviting them to pet her head and tickle her tongue. (Belugas enjoy tongue tickling so much that it’s used to reinforce, or reward, behaviors.) The calf is curious about the variety of floating toys the adult belugas enjoy as enrichment. One of her favorite activities right now, however, is rubbing against the grates in the pool—a move she learned from mom—to peel her sloughing skin.

Aquarium guests can meet the calf beginning Friday, Oct. 26. Special viewing hours will be 9 to 11 a.m. for Shedd members and corporate partners, and 11 a.m. to closing for all guests, through Wednesday, Oct. 31. Keep in mind that Mauyak and the calf could be off exhibit for short periods of time for routine wellness exams. The pair will be on view full-time to everyone starting Nov. 1.

Karen Furnweger, web editor