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Still in celebration mode following the arrival of Bella’s calf just 10 days ago, Shedd Aquarium is thrilled to announce two more exciting additions to the Shedd family! 31-year-old beluga Naya and 33-year-old Pacific white-sided dolphin Katrl both welcomed calves within just 12 hours of each other. The mom and calf pairs are doing well under the watchful eyes of the animal health and care teams.

Naya’s calf: a tiny whale with an incredibly rare story

At 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, August 30 beluga whale Naya gave birth to a tiny calf. Hours later, she delivered a second calf. Twins are an incredibly rare event in the beluga world, one that scientists believe occurs at a rate of less than 1% for the species. This is such a rare event, that there are no documented cases of twin beluga calves born in the wild. And, to our knowledge, Naya’s calf is just the second known instance of a surviving twin in any cetacean species.

A tiny grey beluga calf swims alongside its mother.

Sadly, Naya’s second calf was stillborn. While we are saddened by the loss of the second calf, we are encouraged that Naya is doing well following delivery. Though the second calf is no longer with us, its birth is still significant in our effort to understand and protect this species.

Weighing in at just 66-pounds, Naya’s first-born calf is smaller than average and considered premature—a result of twinning. In comparison, Bella’s recent calf weighed 139 pounds at the time he was born. A premature birth comes with a unique set of developmental hurdles, and our animal care and health staff will keep a close eye on the new arrival.

Mom and calf are already swimming together—an encouraging sign. The hope is to see continued bonding, nursing and significant growth in the calf in the coming days. Once the calf grows stronger and larger, we can then proceed to find out the sex of the calf and which beluga is the father.

Dolphin Katrl gently nudges her tiny new baby.

Katrl's adorable dolphin calf

On the following morning of Monday, August 31 at 6:20 a.m., Katrl delivered a healthy dolphin calf. Katrl immediately helped the calf swim to the surface to take its first breath after delivery, and mom and calf are already swimming and slip-streaming together—an encouraging bonding sign.

A tiny grey beluga calf lifts its head from the water for a breath of air.
Dolphin Katrl swims with in perfect sync with her tiny baby.

Flukes first

Just like Bella’s recent calf birth, Naya’s first-born calf arrived head-first. Katrl’s calf, however, was delivered tail-first, which is much more common for both species. This is an adaptation that allows the tail to uncurl and harden in the 50- to 55-degree water during labor. By the time the head pops out, the air-breathing mammal is equipped to power itself to the surface to take its first breath of air.

Around-the-clock observation

Animal care team members are observing the pair around the clock, recording every minute-by-minute activity of these pairs and monitoring for critical milestones—which, given Naya’s calf’s prematurity, are more crucial than ever. Over the next several days, the animal care team will pay close care and attention as Naya, Katrl and their calves reach important developmental moments, including continuing to swim together, bonding and for the calves to start gaining weight.

“As we celebrate our new additions, we recognize the need to do all we can to support the mothers, and calves, so that they thrive,” said Peggy Sloan, chief animal operations officer at Shedd Aquarium. “In an extraordinary year of unpredictability, Naya’s historic pregnancy highlights our need to understand beluga reproduction. It also underscored that every birth is significant and contributes to advancing science. Even with a difficult outcome, such as the stillbirth of one of Naya’s twins, we understand the cycle of life and loss and continuously strive to learn from these experiences.”

Beluga whale Naya swims with her tiny grey baby.

What these births mean

Every pregnancy and birth is significant, providing Shedd experts with the rare opportunity to observe, document and collect data that adds to our overall scientific understanding of these species. This would be difficult, if not impossible to do in the wild. Understanding critical neonatal development can help Shedd’s partners deepen their knowledge of conservation, garnering more insights on how pollution and human activity such as shipping could be detrimental to the reproduction and recovery of the critically endangered beluga population in the St. Lawrence River, for example.

With a sustainable population of belugas and dolphins in our care, generations of guests will have an opportunity to make a connection with these incredible species and spark the compassion, curiosity and conservation to protect our shared blue planet.

Caring for pregnant mothers and calves also helps strengthen the skills necessary for Shedd’s Animal Response Team to lead rescue, rehabilitation and release efforts. For example, in 2018, Shedd’s Animal Response Team helped rescue rare Bolivian river dolphins that had become stranded and separated from their home in el Rio Grande. Additionally, our work with beluga whales has allowed us to rescue and release a stranded Canadian beluga of the endangered St. Lawrence beluga population, and allowed us to help rescue and rehabilitate and stranded beluga calf in Alaska.

Katrl and her tiny calf swim together in Shedd's Oceanarium.

Belugas

Births are difficult to observe in the wild and there’s much still to learn about beluga reproduction. Most of what we do know comes from studying belugas in aquariums like Shedd, where experts can readily observe and collect data on these animals. Documentation of Naya’s gestation, delivery and postnatal care and the premature calf’s development add valuable insights into a growing body of information that is shared not just with our zoological partners, but also with field biologists, researchers, conservationists and scientist around the globe.

Pacific white-sided dolphins

Shedd Aquarium is one of just three institutions in North America committed to caring for Pacific white-sided dolphins. As a pelagic species with a wide natural range, Pacific white-sided dolphins are still quite under-studied. Much of what we know about the species’ biology, diet, metabolism, breeding and gestation comes from caring for them in aquariums like Shedd. In fact, Shedd was one of the first places to record an elusive birth, providing rare access and video footage to the scientific community and the public at large.

By observing, documenting and collecting data that adds to our overall scientific understanding in a way that would be difficult, if not impossible to do in the wild, we are able to better care for animals under our roof and to save, protect and advocate for marine mammals in need outside of our walls.

Sticker announcing baby dolphin statistics.
Sticker announcing baby beluga statistics.

The calves at Shedd

Stay tuned for growth updates on all new arrivals on Shedd’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. We will also make an announcement when guests may have the opportunity to come in and see all of the calves for themselves. In the meantime, our guests will continue to be able to visit animals across the globe from sea turtles and alligators to blacktip reef sharksoctopusand more throughout the building.