First-Ever Beluga Whale Calf Born at Georgia Aquarium
(May 21, 2012) –
At 10:32 p.m. on Friday, May 18, Maris, one of Georgia Aquarium’s resident beluga whales, successfully gave birth to her first calf. Shortly after birth, the calf took its first breath with the assistance of two divers, and then attempted to swim with its mother. The calf showed signs that it was not strong enough to navigate on its own, so Aquarium animal care and veterinary experts made the decision to intervene in order to provide the best care possible for the calf. The calf is under 24-hour care, and Aquarium experts currently list it in critical condition.
First-time pregnancies in beluga whales are often unsuccessful in both their natural ranges, as well as in a zoological setting. For this reason, Georgia Aquarium was prepared for many contingencies.
“Since the moment of birth, our animal care and veterinary teams have been giving around-the-clock care to Maris and her calf, taking every measure possible to ensure that the calf thrives,” said Dr. Gregory Bossart, senior vice president & chief veterinary officer. “We became concerned when the calf didn’t demonstrate that it could swim alongside its mother. She appeared to be weak, and her tail flukes hadn’t hardened. Based on our knowledge regarding healthy calves, we knew we needed to intervene. Without our response, this calf would not have survived.”
Dr. Bossart and his team conducted a physical examination on the calf. During the physical, Aquarium animal care and veterinary staff determined the calf to be a female weighing only 82 pounds, well below that of an average beluga whale calf.
Because of the calf’s compromised condition, she is not yet capable of nursing. With this knowledge, the Aquarium team collected colostrum, which contains rich antibodies and minerals that provide newborns with immunities to infections, from Maris to be given to the calf.
While first-time pregnancies in beluga whales have low success rates, odds for survival increase with each of the mother’s consecutive pregnancies.
“Given that this is Maris’ first pregnancy, we are certainly pleased to see the development of her maternal behavior. There are many milestones over the next several days and weeks that this calf must surpass, that will be extremely critical to its survival,” said William Hurley, senior vice president & chief zoological officer. “Our experienced and dedicated team is providing the best care available to both calf and mom and will continue to provide 24-hour care as long as is required. Animal care is the top priority at Georgia Aquarium, and our expert team of veterinarians and animal care specialists continue to fulfill our commitment to do whatever it takes to provide the finest care for our collection. We are hoping for the best, but the reality of the situation is that we have a long way to go."
Georgia Aquarium is one of seven accredited North American aquariums and zoos committed to educational public display and conservation of beluga whales, and will continue to share the vital knowledge gained through this pregnancy and birth with the marine mammal community. Because of the extraordinary, long-term care beluga whales receive at accredited zoological organizations like the Georgia Aquarium, this birth is significant as it’s the first calf to be born from parents who were born in human care. Maris was born at the New York Aquarium in 1994, and the father, Beethoven, was born at SeaWorld San Antonio in 1992.
To allow our animal care and veterinary staff to focus completely on the comfort and well-being of Maris and calf, the beluga exhibit will be temporarily closed until further notice. Updates about Maris and the calf can be found at www.georgiaaquariumblog.org. To be among the first to receive announcements about the calf and other information from the Georgia Aquarium, sign up for e-newsletters at www.georgiaaquarium.org.
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ABOUT GEORGIA AQUARIUM
Georgia Aquarium is the world’s largest, with more than 10 million gallons of water and six permanent galleries. It is considered one of the top Atlanta attractions and one of the best Atlanta sightseeing activities. The mission of Georgia Aquarium is to be an entertaining, educational and scientific institution featuring exhibits and programs of the highest standards, while promoting the conservation of aquatic biodiversity. Georgia Aquarium offers events in Atlanta throughout the year for guests of all ages, as well as engaging Atlanta kids’ activities and programs. Georgia Aquarium is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. For additional information, visit www.georgiaaquarium.org.