Bella, beluga whaleBeluga whale Bella celebrates her 7th birthday today! She’s still growing, but at 10 feet 4 inches and 900 pounds, she really looks like an adult now. You can tell her apart from the other belugas by the large white spot on her flank.

Maris Muzzy, senior trainer and cetacean manager, reports that Bella’s newest friend is 11-month-old female Kimalu now that the calf’s mom, Mauyak, is relaxing her protective behavior a little. And Bella likes to swim alongside the volunteer divers when they do habitat checks.

“She’s learned two new ‘big’ show behaviors, bows and slide outs,” Maris says. “She sometimes confuses the two behaviors, so you can see her sink and pause before taking off, as if she’s thinking about which behavior we wanted.”

You’ll probably hear Bella chirping, whistling, squealing and making a lot of other interesting sounds—produced in her nasal passages and broadcast through her blowhole. The trainers are reinforcing—that is, rewarding with treats, pats and tickles—her and the other younger belugas when they make new vocalizations that later will be associated with hand cues for the aquatic show. Belugas can have a repertoire of thousands of sounds. “Bella’s favorite new vocalization sounds like foghorn,” Maris says. Typical of a 7-year-old, it’s loud and a little rude—and very funny.

Bella is one of six belugas successfully born in the Abbott Oceanarium since 1999. Shedd is a partner with six other accredited North American aquariums and marine mammal parks in a beluga breeding program that has benefited these charismatic whales through shared expertise and a growing database on beluga biology. This collaboration was formed to ensure that a healthy, sustainable beluga population remains not only in aquariums, but also in the wild.

Karen Furnweger, web editor