On May 10, Maris the beluga whale ushered a female calf into the world at the Georgia Aquarium. But what really tells the life and possible upheavals of Baby Beluga?
On Mother's Day, May 10, Maris the beluga whale gave birth to a female calf at the Georgia Aquarium.
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According to aquarium staff, the labor lasted 3 hours and 18 minutes and the calf's flukes were out. Sliding out a 1:25 a.m., the team managed document the birth while in the Georgia-Pacific Cold Water Quest galley. The videos are available for download. However, fo those with slow internet connections, the videos may be unwieldy at 194 and 201 MB.
One interesting tidbit is that the animal care staff saw the 126.5 pound newborn calf for the first time via ultrasound on same day as delivery. At 59 inches, the calf is just over 4-feet long and a girth of 37-inches. Labor was not exactly a swim through the sea kelp. And with a foot-long fluke, pushing the baby animal out probably was not easy, either.
Beluga births are rare in captivity, and in fact Georgia Aquarium staff are right to be nervous at next few weeks of the calf's life. In 2012, Maris's first calf died shortly after birth. At 82 pounds, the baby was underweight and went directly into 24-hour care.
Recently, Georgia Aquarium treaded carefully in troubled water after the public objected to capturing 18 wild Russian belugas. The belugas are currently in a Russian facility awaiting a definitive answer after National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries denied permits to diversify the genetic gene pool of captured whales.
The fight continues in court while the public watches the newest marine mammal at the aquarium attempt to survive.
And belugas are not always successful in surviving captivity.
CNN reported that in 2009 three of the aquariums belugas died while in temporary holding at San Antonio's Sea World. Gaspar, Marina, and Nico were all aging animals that staff hoped to help ease into the last stages of life gently. With a life span of 35 years, the world's largest aquarium hopes to promote conservation for the species.
In fact, during this pregnancy, 17 divers rotated in order to provide support if needed for a total of 1,200 minutes in 59 degree weather. Given that the average pregnancy for a beluga is 467 days, the devoted amount of time spent between staff and volunteer is no small matter.
15 volunteers spent over 1,400 hours in a 24-hour rotation since March. That means Maris was never alone, leaving the carers able to call quickly for help if needed. And 102 staff members from 14 departments helped in the labor and delivery. Georgia Aquarium also worked with 6 different zoological facilities.
Obviously the new mother and calf are off display for the moment and the exhibit is temporarily closed. Staff are monitoring bonding, proper growth, and nourishment intake. Unlike the case of Maris’s first calf, the newborn seems to be eating well if going by the recent video posted by the aquarium.
With 15 months of long-term preparation, the Dr. Tonya Clauss, Director of Animal Health, seems “cautiously optimistic” at the survival of the calf. At 20-years-old, Maris assisted the calf, keeping her afloat after initial surfacing. All the critical milestones means the pair are progressing nicely.
And it turns out this birth is important since this is "the first viable 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."
As one of only seven accredited North American aquariums and zoos to use belugas to educate the public about the species, the baby's birth means a lot.
Right now, Baby Beluga remains unnamed and little information on the naming process is available. Perhaps the public will decide the best name, like Zoo Atlanta does, while holding a special event for the occasion. With parents named Maris and Beethoven, the possibilities are limitless.
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No one knows the outcome of the baby, but it's safe to say the world will be watching and cheering the little girl to swim on.For more updates on baby and exhibit opening, Georgia Aquarium advises fans and patrons to check out their Facebook, Twitter, and blog.