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Premature Beluga Calf Succumbs to Health Challenges

Rare twin birth results in loss of second calf following fight to survive

September 15, 2020

A tiny grey beluga calf lifts its head from the water for a breath of air.

Shedd Aquarium is saddened to announce the loss of the surviving calf of 31-year-old beluga whale, Naya (NYE-ah), who gave birth to twins two weeks ago – an incredibly rare event that scientists believe occurs at a rate of less than one-percent for the species. The female calf passed away early this morning due to the development of untreatable sepsis and pneumonia – complications related to its premature birth.

While Naya’s second calf was delivered stillborn, the first calf was born premature weighing only 66 pounds – a result of twinning, which brings a unique set of developmental hurdles. By comparison, Shedd’s healthy young beluga calf Annik, born last year to mother Mayauk (MY-yak), weighed 150 pounds at birth.

Early challenges for the calf included the critical need to boost natural antibodies and to increase in weight and strength steadily and significantly. Despite intensive, around-the-clock care and attention provided by the aquarium’s animal caregivers and veterinarians, ultimately the calf was unable to build the immune and respiratory strength needed to survive.

“Our team gave Naya’s calf the absolute best chance to thrive – we knew from the beginning the odds were against her,” said Chief Animal Operations Officer Peggy Sloan. “Human babies with similar developmental challenges are cared for in a neonatal intensive care unit. At Shedd, she received exceptional, compassionate care and expertise 24/7 from our team from the moment she was born. Devastatingly, she simply was not strong or developed enough to overcome her health challenges.”

Naya is exhibiting normal behaviors, appears healthy and is swimming with the other beluga whales in the Oceanarium. Shedd’s animal care team is also continuing round-the-clock care and 24-hour observations for the two other new calves born last month - a Pacific white-sided dolphin calf born Aug. 31 to mother, Katrl (kuh-TREHL), and another beluga calf to mother, Bella, just ten days earlier on Aug. 21.

“Naya’s calf inspired people to recognize and root for aquatic animals,” added Sloan. “Thousands engaged online to wonder at the rare occurrence of twin belugas. Our full attention remains focused on the care and welfare of the animals we are privileged to share. We celebrate life and health even as we mourn decline and loss.”

Every birth at Shedd Aquarium is significant - both for our community and for our world. The aquarium continues to deeply invest in the health and welfare of all 32,000 animals who live there – including these new calves. This responsibility has even greater weight during this unprecedented time. Shedd is grateful to the community who supports and enables this work through visits to the aquarium, membership and direct contributions. Those interested in providing important support during this time can learn more about ways to give at

VISUAL NOTE: Visit the following links to download high-resolution photos and footage.

Naya Calf:
Photo credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Eva Ho and Brenna Hernandez
Video credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez