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Say Hello to Beluga Whale Annik

It’s official. Mauyak’s calf has a name: Annik (AH-nik). It means “blizzard” in the language of the Inuit, the native people of the Canadian Arctic, part of beluga whales’ circumpolar range. Selection of the name, from among five suggested by the marine mammals staff, was open to the public, both at Shedd and on our website. Among those who cast their ballots on site, we heard a lot of guests make the snowy connection between “Annik” and Mauyak’s name, which means “soft snow.” “Annik” turned out to be the clear choice for 36 percent of voters, receiving 7,233 of the 19,910 votes cast.

A trainer stands in Whale Harbor holding a large envelope as a beluga whale spits on it
A trainer stands in the oceanarium holding a large sign with baby beluga name 'Annik' while mother Mauyak spits water swimming below.

Mauyak reveals the name

Voting started with participants in Shedd’s family overnighter on Nov. 15. Then ballots were available on site and online through Nov. 21. After an early-morning vote tally by staffers, mom Mauyak delivered the results during today’s 10:30 aquatic presentation. She did it in true beluga fashion, squirting water at an oversized envelope held by a trainer that was then turned over to reveal the calf’s name. While Mauyak got in a few more enthusiastic sprays of water at the trainer, Annik, who has free range of whatever habitat he’s in, hung out next to mom getting his tongue tickled.

Annik is the first beluga born at the aquarium since August 2012, when Mauyak gave birth to Kimalu, his sister. “We haven’t named a beluga calf at Shedd in seven years, so this was a special moment for guests, but also for our staff and the beluga care team,” said Maris Muzzy, manager of whales and dolphins at Shedd. “We couldn’t be happier with the name our guests decided on. While Mauyak’s name represents her calm, graceful demeanor, so does ‘Annik’ describe this calf’s fierce spirit and rambunctious energy.”

A beluga calf swims near its mother's tail in the Oceanarium.

Annik at about a week old, still showing fetal folds, or wrinkles in his sides from being curled up inside mom

Annik was born July 3 at 7:23 p.m. in the Abbott Oceanarium’s Whale Harbor. Estimated to be 5 feet long and 150 pounds at birth, the calf is now just shy of 6 feet long and is a husky 330 pounds. The trainers report that he gains 8 to 10 pounds a week. Analysis of DNA samples from the afterbirth determined that his sire is Aurek, the largest beluga—and animal—at Shedd. 

Annik gets to know the trainers

“From day one, this calf has been a strong, playful and independent addition to the pod,” Maris said. But he has also hovered near Mauyak during her training and feeding sessions, giving him a chance to observe her trusting relationship with the marine mammals staff. By the time he was 2 months old, he had figured out that Mom’s training sessions were fun, and he began taking part in his own way.

Marine mammals supervisor Susan Allen said, “He will often come over and open his mouth, allowing us to tickle his tongue and rub his mouth. We rub his melon and splash him as well.” These fun tactile experiences are favorites with all the belugas, and they are already being used as positive reinforcement when Annik voluntarily interacts with the trainers.

Susan added, “He has also spent a lot of time with Kimalu. Their interactions are fun to watch. They often squirt water at each other and bump melons, and he piggybacks on her when she’s swimming.” Piggybacking is one way calves expend less energy getting around, along with slipstreaming next to an adult, to conserve critical calories for growth.

A grey beluga calf rests atop his mother.

If Annik looks a little pebbly right now, it’s because he's sloughing his skin. It may be a while before his skin is smooth again, but sloughing is a sign that he's growing and passing another important milestone.

Annik's ongoing contributions

As fun as it is to watch Annik, for the first 60 days of his life, a rotation of trainers did serious around-the-clock observations of him, collecting minute-by-minute data on his behaviors—swimming, nursing, socializing, vocalizing, even defecating—to add to the database on neonatal belugas.

“The calf has provided incredible data as we’ve observed his growth and behavior,” said Maris. Such observations are difficult to impossible to do in the wild. "This is valuable information that we are already sharing with partners who can use and interpret the data as they monitor and protect wild belugas and habitats that are critical for their survival.”

Visit Annik and Mauyak soon and often so you can keep your own record of the calf’s development!

Karen Furnweger, web editor