The beluga baby, the first to be born from parents who were born in captivity, emerged from her mother in a weakened state and weighing only 82 pounds. The female calf is said to be in critical condition and under 24-hour veterinary care.
Image shows beluga whale calf being born Friday night at at Georgia Aquarium
This is not surprising, considering that newborn beluga whales often do not survive with first-time mothers, in the wild and in captivity.
But the Georgia Aquarium staff, which anticipated a life struggle, worked during the pregnancy to train the mother how to nurse and care for her first baby, which was conceived naturally and not through artificial insemination — a rarity among captive belugas.
It also placed divers in the water at the time of birth, to help the female calf surface and take her first breaths.
Divers help the beluga whale calf take her first breaths
Because the calf is too weak to nurse, the staff is feeding her a mineral-rich formula from colostrum collected from the mother, whose name is Maris.
“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, the aquarium’s senior vice president and chief veterinary officer. “We became concerned when the calf didn’t demonstrate that it could swim alongside its mother. Without our response, this calf would not have survived.”
There is some promise, as Maris’ maternal instincts are becoming more evident, according to the aquarium blog.
“Given that this is Maris’ first pregnancy, we are certainly pleased to see the development of her maternal behavior,” stated William Hurley, chief zoological officer. “[But] there are many milestones over the next several days and weeks that this calf must surpass, that will be extremely critical to its survival. We are hoping for the best, but the reality of the situation is, we still have a long way to go.”
There are only six facilities in North America that contain belugas, and only a handful of births occur each year. Maris was born at the New York Aquarium in 1994, and the father, Beethoven, was born at SeaWorld San Antonio in 1992. Beethoven is the first beluga calf to be born in captivity.
As for the unnamed calf, she has received overwhelming support among fans who have visited the aquarium’s Facebook page.
Writes Cathi Muckerman: “Fight, Baby Girl!!! Thoughts and prayers being sent to all involved in the care of this very special creature.”
Adds Heather McRae Vence: “Welcome to the family little girl. We have been so excited to meet you for months. You have my family’s prayers. I know the staff is taking amazing care of you.”
There was little change in the calf’s condition as of late Tuesday morning and Hurley said the 24-hour care will continue for Maris and her baby for “as long as is required.”
– Images are courtesy of the Georgia Aquarium