Puiji’s calf, who turned 7 weeks old on Monday, is one plump little beluga. He has just about filled out his fetal folds, the deep wrinkles in his sides from when he was tucked in the womb. The trainers estimate that he’s gained at least 60 pounds since he was born, putting him at more than 220 pounds. He’s longer, too. Of course, he’s nursing from his mom and from the two other females in Puiji’s social group, Naya and Mauyak, so he’s getting plenty of nourishment. 

At this point, the calf makes it look easy as he sails over to one whale or another to nurse. But in the beginning, imagine how hard it is when mom doesn’t have arms to cradle and baby doesn’t have hands to grasp – and both are swimming. 

That’s why Shedd’s animal care team members wait anxiously for each beluga calf to figure out where the milk is and how to get it. They heaved a collective sigh of relief when Puiji’s calf started nursing when he was 24 hours old – thanks in large part to Puiji’s ability to guide the little guy to the right place while he was having early difficulties diving to reach her mammary glands. 

In a matter of days, however, the calf became a nimble swimmer, ducking under mom, bumping her mammary glands with his head – stimulating milk production – and latching on for a meal.

When he nurses, he rolls his tongue into a soda-straw-like tube. Once the calf has his mouth firmly on the mammary, Puiji contracts the muscles around the gland to give him a high-pressure squirt of milk that is about 27 percent butterfat. (For comparison, half-and-half is about 11 percent, premium ice creams can run as high as 18 percent, and whipped cream is about 35 percent butterfat.) The calf nurses about every 30 minutes, getting two to six good long draws each time. And if Mom is tired but the calf wants more, he switches to Naya or Mauyak. 

Be sure to visit Puiji’s calf soon in Polar Play Zone, and check out other beluga calf updates, including videos, downloadable activities, coupons, and more!

Posted by Karen Furnweger, web editor