Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium has welcomed into its universe a beluga whale that is 4 1/2 feet long, weighs about 150 pounds, and is unquestionably among the cutest critters ever housed at the sprawling facility. A day after the much anticipated birth, mother and baby are said to be doing well.

“In less than 24 hours after birth, the calf achieved the first critical milestones that we look for, including taking its first breath, bonding with mom, and we’ve seen attempts at nursing,” said Ken Ramirez, executive vice president of animal care and training at Shedd.

“Shedd’s long history of research and care of these animals tells us that these initial behaviors indicate a strong calf, but we will continue to monitor for signs of development, including steady nursing and growth.”

Both mother (named Mauyak, meaning soft wind in Inuit) and calf will remain under around-the-clock observation during the next several days. The calf’s gender has yet to be determined. The father, Naluark, is on a breeding exchange at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut.

This marks the third birth for Mauyak, so the labor “was quick and went very smoothly,” Ramirez said.

Both animals remain off exhibit during the observation period in Secluded Bay of the Abbott Oceanarium. Animal care experts will not physically interact with the whales, but will simply watch while the mother nurtures and bonds with her newborn. Soon, however, the staff will be able to determine whether the calf is a boy or a girl.
Shedd is one of seven North American facilities that manage the health and future of beluga whales through coordinated breeding partnerships. More than 35 beluga whales are part of the cooperative, and with the addition of the calf, Shedd now has seven belugas.

The facility made headlines three months ago after the successful birth of its first-ever Pacific white-sided dolphin. The dolphin and his mom are stars in the Misty Passage portion of the Abbott Oceanarium.

Image showing newborn beluga whale and mother is courtesy of Shedd Aquarium