Although she’ll be a baby in her trainers’ and other Shedd friends’ eyes for years to come, she has come a long way from her 5-foot, 150-pound birth size. At her last exam in March, Kimalu was 6 feet 6 inches long and weighed about 325 pounds. (Because she is so healthy, the animal care and animal health teams haven’t needed to weigh her since then.) As you can see from the photos taken last week, the little whale is plenty plump. And you don’t need a scale or tape measure to see that she’s growing—her mottled appearance indicates that she’s about ready to slough her outgrown skin again.
More changes have taken place. Kimalu’s first tooth erupted last month. (Her full set of 34 or so peglike teeth will come in by the time she’s about 5.) In the weeks leading up to this momentous event, she enjoyed having her gums rubbed and mouthed her toys. Of this teething behavior trainer and cetacean manager Maris Muzzy says, “This might be the first time we’ve seen a correlation between belugas mouthing toys and teeth coming in.”
Happily, Kimalu doesn’t need a lot of teeth to gulp down slippy-slidey fish. Maris reports that the little whale is eating about 4½ pounds of fish a day. “She eats herring better than her capelin. But she doesn’t eat on every session because she gets very distracted during shows.” Not to worry: As soon as a session ends, Kimalu heads for mom Mauyak to nurse.
You might see Kimalu in a training session next to Mauyak, targeting on her
black-and-yellow diamond name shape. During the summer, Maris started the calf’s formal training with a whistle, teaching her to associate the high-pitched tweet with a fishy reward, the first step in Kimalu learning that the whistle means “good job!”
She’s also gaining confidence. When her mom is participating in a beluga encounter or a
Trainer for a Day interaction, Kimalu will get into the mix, swimming close to the guests. “That sometimes gets her in trouble with her mom, who usually leaves to escort Kimalu away from the guests before returning to work with her trainer.” Obviously the little whale is still a baby in ever-attentive Mauyak’s eyes, too.
Kimalu is easy to spot among the other young whales—she’s the smallest and the darkest. And (oftentimes) she’ll be with mom, who is easy to identify by the gray streaks on her white sides. Visit often. Don’t miss the fun of watching this beluga grow!
—Karen Furnweger, web editor