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Shedd Aquarium Beluga Whale is Pregnant

Shedd’s Animal Care Experts Prepare for a Beluga Birth in Summer 2019

September 18, 2018

Beluga whale Mauyak peers out of the water at Shedd Aquarium.

Shedd Aquarium announced today that one of their marine mammals is expecting. Mauyak (MY-ak), a 37-year-old beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) is pregnant and expected to give birth in summer 2019.

“Mauyak is progressing beautifully, and our suite of veterinarians and beluga care team are working in sync to regularly check her and the developing calf,” said Steve Aibel, senior director of marine mammals at Shedd Aquarium. “The beluga whales at Shedd allow people to discover and make connections with an incredible species that lives thousands of miles away, and this pregnancy is no exception. We are looking forward to bringing our guests with us every step of the way and sharing the wonder of beluga whale development.”

Shedd’s world-class animal care staff has a long history of experience with marine mammal births. With each beluga pregnancy, and each birth, experts at the aquarium have the rare opportunity to observe, document and collect data that adds to our overall scientific understanding of the species. This would be difficult, if not impossible, to do in the wild.

Caring for pregnant mothers and calves helps strengthen the skills necessary for Shedd’s Animal Response Team to lead rescue, rehabilitation and release efforts. For example, last year Shedd joined a team of experts in Alaska to provide triage for a stranded beluga calf that is part of the critically endangered subpopulation of belugas in Cook Inlet.

"In addition to the excitement and joy of an aquarium birth, each new arrival affords our team and our professional community the opportunity to grow our understanding of how to care for animals here and in the wild," says Peggy Sloan, chief animal operations officer at Shedd Aquarium. "There is no better feeling than taking what we learn at Shedd and applying it to a rescue operation in the field or a conservation effort to safeguard this species. This is the same of what we ask from our guests each day – learn what you can and then join us in using that knowledge to protect and conserve the aquatic world around us.

“In addition to the excitement and joy of an aquarium birth, each new arrival affords our team and our professional community the opportunity to grow our understanding of how to care for animals here and in the wild.”

Peggy Sloan, chief animal operations officer at Shedd Aquarium

Beyond caring for eight beluga whales on site, Shedd has decades of experience leading, participating in and supporting efforts beyond the aquarium’s walls to better understand, manage and protect beluga whales in the wild. Much of this work and support focuses on critically endangered beluga subpopulations in Alaska’s Cook Inlet and Canada’s St. Lawrence Estuary. For instance, Shedd currently co-funds three studies in Cook Inlet to better understand why, despite strict management and protections, the native beluga population is not recovering.

For the time being, Mauyak’s days will remain the same: swimming with the other belugas, engaging with the beluga care staff and guests, and participating in aquatic presentations. The veterinarian team will also visit her for regular checkups, which include video ultrasounds.

Mauyak, whose name means “soft snow” in the language of the Inuit, is an experienced mother. Her most recent calf, Kimalu, was born in 2012.  Guests will continue to see Mauyak in the Abbott Oceanarium, and Shedd will provide updates throughout her pregnancy.