Mother beluga swims with her calfThe Shedd Aquarium family is delighted to announce the birth of beluga whale Mauyak’s calf. The little whale—estimated at 4½ feet and 150 pounds—arrived at 2 a.m. today after a smooth labor. Both mom and calf are doing well, and the calf appears to be strong.

As with any marine mammal birth, Shedd’s animal care and animal health staff members remain cautious during these early hours as they watch for the calf to pass a number of critical milestones. But the little beluga is in the best care possible—Mauyak is an experienced mom, and she has a support crew of trainers and veterinarians who are monitoring the pair around the clock.

Ken Ramirez, executive vice president of animal care and training, reports that the calf is already attempting to nurse, a hopeful achievement less than 12 hours after birth. This milestone—which requires the calf to locate, latch onto and suckle from mom’s recessed mammary glands as they both swim—is the most anxiously awaited event after the calf’s first breath. This is where Mauyak’s experience comes into play. She knows how to turn, how to slow her swimming and how to guide the little one to her mammaries, located near her tail.

Mauyak has raised two other calves at Shedd, Qannik, in 2000, and Miki, who just celebrated his fifth birthday on Aug. 16. Miki and the new calf are full siblings. Their father is Naluark (nah-LOO-ark), who is now on a breeding exchange at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut.

Shedd, Mystic and five other North American aquariums and zoos are partners in a cooperative beluga breeding program for these iconic marine mammals. Since 1999, Shedd has celebrated six successful beluga births, including this calf. The cooperative effort maintains a healthy beluga population in zoological facilities, and the knowledge gained about the species’ natural history and reproduction contributes to protecting and conserving beluga populations in the wild.

Mauyak and the calf are off exhibit in the Secluded Bay habitat of the Abbott Oceanarium. Privacy panels on the coastal walkway and on the underwater viewing windows create a quiet, distraction-free environment in which Mauyak can care for the calf while still allowing both areas to be open to the public.

Pacific white-sided dolphin Piquet and her calf, who were in Secluded Bay, can be seen in Misty Passage. The calf, who turns 3 months old on Tuesday, spent several weeks acclimating to other pools with his mom as trainers anticipated the beluga birth.

Check back for more updates and photos on Mauyak’s calf. And wish both calves continued success!

Karen Furnweger, web editor