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Kayavak: The Amazing First Year

The story of Kayavak's first year is one of the great, heartrending, heartwarming episodes in Shedd Aquarium's history.

Her mom, Immiayuk, was one of Shedd's two original beluga whales. Immi was much loved for her gentle, intelligent nature. Her sudden death from a bacterial infection on Dec. 26, 1999, was tragic enough, but she left behind a 5-month-old calf that was still nursing.

Putting aside their grief, the marine mammals and animal healthcare staffers had to act quickly and make some hard decisions to try to save the little whale. Luckily, Kayavak was just barely old enough to begin eating fish, because it was unlikely that the animal-care staff could have sustained her with even the best substitute formula. For months, the marine mammals staffers and volunteers worked three shifts to take the place of Kayavak's mom and not only make her feel secure and happy again but also teach her how to be a beluga whale.

As everyone knows, Kayavak thrived, and she's now a 1,000-pound adolescent. You can often see her in Shedd's aquatic show. As she gets older, her skin is getting lighter, but you can still make out the unique milk-white "handprint" on her back and identify her by her unusually large eyes—just like her mom's.

We wrote a children's book about Kayavak, and we're especially pleased with the illustrations that go with the story. Artist Carrie Stickan went through several rounds of sketches for each illustration until she had perfectly portrayed the calf and the people who care for her. You may recognize some of the trainers on your next visit to Shedd Aquarium to see Kayavak.

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