Stranded Beluga Whale Calf Gets Intensive Care


A stranded Beluga Whale calf, struggling to survive on its own, was rescued from Cook Inlet, Alaska on Saturday, September 30. The male calf is undergoing intensive around-the-clock care at the Alaska SeaLife Center with the help of Marine Mammal experts from around North America.  The calf is a member of the critically endangered Cook Inlet Beluga Whale population, which has declined to approximately 328 individuals left in the wild.

The solitary calf, estimated to be four weeks old, was spotted alone and distressed by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement (NOAA OLE) Enforcement Officer and Department of Public Safety / Alaska Wildlife Troopers Pilot returning from a helicopter patrol. No adult Belugas were seen in the area. Under authorization from NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (MMHSRP), the NOAA enforcement officer and the Alaska Wildlife Troopers pilot attempted unsuccessfully to encourage the animal back in the water. NOAA helped coordinate the transport of an Alaska SeaLife Center veterinarian to the site to assess the animal's condition. A decision was made to transport the Beluga calf to Anchorage for subsequent transfer to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. 

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Photo Credit: Alaska SeaLife Center

The calf is currently receiving treatment in the Alaska SeaLife Center’s I.Sea.U. “The calf appeared to have been stranded for several hours and was in a weakened condition; without evidence of major physical trauma. He is able to swim on his own and is breathing regularly, which are very positive signs. However, there are tremendous hurdles ahead. Because this animal is extremely young, there is a high risk of complications,” said Dr. Carrie Goertz, DVM, ASLC Director of Animal Health. With any cetacean [Whale or Dolphin] rescue, particularly with a neonatal calf, survival is estimated at less than 10 percent.

When a stranded animal arrives at the Alaska SeaLife Center, the first goal is to rehydrate the animal. Aminoplex is a formula that helps animals when they are in a severe state of dehydration.  This is the first fluid the calf received upon arrival at the Center’s I.Sea.U. The  calf was 64 inches long and weighed 142 pounds when it arrived at the Center.

The Beluga calf has graduated from drinking Aminoplex to a milk matrix with fish and antibiotics added. The calf actively suckles his formula, but the team is still determining the best way to deliver his meals. A bottle does not allow the calf to gain proper suction. They have found that the calf is able to suckle better from the tip of a wide tube inserted just inside his mouth. (This is not traditional “tube feeding,” in which food is delivered directly to the stomach via tube and the animal receives the food passively, without suckling.)

To best care for this endangered calf, Alaska SeaLife Center pulled together a team of first responders, which included on-site Marine Mammal experts with support from five North American aquariums with professional experience caring for Beluga Whales. Together, veterinarians and Marine Mammal experts at Alaska SeaLife Center, Georgia Aquarium, Vancouver Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium, SeaWorld, and Mystic Aquarium bring decades of hands-on experience caring for, raising, studying and transferring vital knowledge about Beluga Whales, including this critically endangered population. Several of the institutions operate Marine Mammal rescue centers or animal response teams and are deployed when a cetacean requires intervention to give it the best chance at survival – considered even more important when working collaboratively to rehabilitate a member of a critically endangered population.

“As Alaska’s only Marine Mammal rescue and rehabilitation center, our team of experts are responsible for the care of a variety of critical wildlife response situations across the state. To be able to have our expert colleagues assist us with this critically endangered Beluga calf is a true testament to the Marine Mammal community’s commitment to caring for and preserving wild cetacean populations,” said Tara Riemer, President and CEO at the Alaska SeaLife Center. “To witness everyone come together for this very young calf is heartwarming as he is receiving the best 24-hour care from experts across North America.”


New Baby Killer Whale Makes It Ten at SeaWorld San Diego

Whale baby solo

SeaWorld San Diego's Killer Whale mom Kasatka, estimated to be 37 years old, gave birth on Valentines Day to a healthy calf at Shamu Stadium under the watchful eyes of SeaWorld’s zoological team members. The birth marked the sixth successful killer whale to be born at SeaWorld San Diego. Kasatka and her new baby were swimming together in the show pool that very day. And DNA testing recently revealed that it's a boy! That makes SeaWorld’s Killer Whales to ten -- five males and five females.

Killer whale gestation is between 17 and 18 months long, and Kasatka’s took the full 18 months. Calves typically weigh between 300 and 350 pounds and measure between 6 and 7 feet at birth. The park’s zoological team members report that mother and baby continue to do well, with the calf nursing regularly from the start. Trainers and veterinarians continue a 24-hour watch on the whales to assure their health and well being. 

In the mean time, he’s not only spending time with his brother and sister (Kalia and Nakai), but he's also swimming with Corky, Shouka and Orkid. And he’s already learned to swim upside down, proving himself to be a bit of a show-boat!!! The plan is to introduce him to the others - Ulises, Keet and Ike -- in the near future. 

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Whale baby swims w mom

Whale baby and mom

Photo Credit: All photos: SeaWorld San Diego, Photo 1, 2: Mike Aguilera

See more pictures of the baby Killer Whale swimming with Mom and the rest of the whale family after the fold.

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Baby Beluga Born to Mauyak at Shedd Aquarium

Mauyak and Calf Shedd Aquarium Resize 3

At approximately 2:00 AM yesterday morning, August 27, Chicago's Shedd Aquarium welcomed a healthy Beluga calf to mother Mauyak. Shedd’s animal care team estimates that the calf is 4½ feet long and weighs about 150 pounds. Both mother and calf appear to be doing well and will remain under 24-hour observation by the animal health staff in Shedd’s Abbott Oceanarium.

“We are thrilled to welcome the newest member of the Shedd Aquarium family. A newborn calf must reach several milestones in its first days and months so we remain cautious; however, the calf has demonstrated incredible progress,” said Ken Ramirez, executive vice president of animal care and training at Shedd. “Mauyak is an experienced mom having given birth to two calves in the past, so the labor was quick and went very smoothly.”

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“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,” continued Ramirez, who has nearly four decades of marine mammal expertise, including serving as the past president of the International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association (IMATA). “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.”

Animal care is Shedd’s top priority, so mother and calf are currently off exhibit in the Secluded Bay habitat of the Abbott Oceanarium. During the first few critical days following a birth, Shedd’s animal care experts do not physically interact with the whales. Instead, the team observes day and night, allowing time for the mother to nurture her newborn and build a strong bond. As a result, the marine mammal staff has not determined the calf’s gender through a physical examination. 

Beluga Calf Close-up Shedd Aquarium RS1Photo credits: ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

Watch the baby breath, swim and frolic in its first few hours of life!

Video credits: ©Shedd Aquarium

More photos and information below the fold!

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Milking a Killer Whale

In October we brought you the story of Loro Parque's newborn Killer Whale calf. Today we received an update from this Spanish aquarium with some fascinating footage. Unfortunately the mother Orca was not feeding her baby properly so aquarists stepped in to hand feed the rambunctious calf. In order to do this, keepers needed to extract milk from mom. Lucky for them, mom seems happy to oblige as seen in the video at the bottom. In the first video, we get up close and personal with the calf as he bottle feeds. 

Loro Parque Welcomes Killer Whale Calf

Two baby Killer Whales in just two days! Loro Parque, located in Spain's Canary Islands, welcomed its first orca calf yesteday. Veterinarians, biologists and other experts, watched anxiously over the four hours of labor. Moments after the birth, the onlookers were relieved to see the healthy newborn calf instinctively rise to the surface and take its first breath. The baby weighs 150 kilograms (330 lbs) and measures 2 meters (6.5 feet) long. The conservation status of Killer Whales is poorly understood and scientists are working hard to determine if one or more types of different Killer Whales may be distinct endangered species. 




Special thanks to ZooBorns reader Juan Villalba for alerting us to this birth.

Baby Killer Whale Born at SeaWorld Orlando

Katina, a 34-year-old killer whale, gave birth Saturday, October 9, at 7:28 p.m. in SeaWorld Orlando’s multimillion-gallon Shamu Stadium following a 45-minute labor. Moments later, the baby whale instinctively swam to the surface for its first breath. This is the seventh calf born to Katina, an 18-foot-long, 5,400-pound killer whale. “It’s a terrific day for all of us at SeaWorld,” said Kelly Flaherty-Clark, curator of animal training.  “Katina is an experienced mom and she appears to be bonding quickly with her baby.”

Katina, bottom, and her new calf swim at Shamu Stadium.  The calf was born on oct 9_D

Killer whale birth at SeaWorld Orlando October 9 2010 Katina is mom baby whale is seen exhaling resized

Katina, left, and her new calf swim at Shamu Stadium

Katina, left, and her new calf swim at Shamu Stadium

Katina, bottom, and her new calf swim at Shamu Stadium.  The calf was born on oct 9_D

Killer whale birth at SeaWorld Orlando October 9 2010 Katina is mom BPhotos taken by Chris Gotshall for SeaWorld Orlando

SeaWorld veterinarians and trainers remain cautiously optimistic about the progress of the baby and her mother and are encouraged by the bonding they’ve already seen. This calf is the 27th killer whale born at the SeaWorld parks in Orlando, Fla., San Diego, Calif. and San Antonio, Texas.  Sixteen whales have been born at SeaWorld Orlando. SeaWorld's killer whale breeding program is the most successful in the world.

Baby Beluga Bounces into Vancouver Aquarium

Just a few hours ago at the Vancouver Aquarium, staff watched breathlessly as 20 year old beluga whale Aurora gave birth to a calf. Like all baby belugas, the calf was born with large wrinkles which disappear over the first few weeks.

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The unnamed calf will be sharing its enclosure with another calf born in the fall of last year named Tiqa. Researchers are interested to see how the two calves interact and we hope to bring you pictures soon.

Video of actual birth can be watched below the fold. Be warned though: like most mammal births, it's a messy (but joyous!) process.

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