Within twelve hours, a beluga whale and a Pacific white-sided dolphin at Shedd Aquarium both delivered calves. The arrivals follow the birth of another beluga calf just ten days earlier, on Friday, August 21. In an increasingly urbanized and nature-deficient world, the births are part of a deep commitment to understanding and connecting the public with these two incredible species for generations to come.
Sunday evening, Naya (NYE-ah), a 31-year-old beluga, delivered two calves -- an incredibly rare event that scientists believe occurs at a rate of less than 1% for the species. Naya gave birth to her first calf at 7:00 p.m. Hours later, she delivered a second calf that was stillborn.
At just 66 pounds, the first-born calf is considered premature -- a result of twinning, which brings a unique set of developmental hurdles. Naya is currently swimming with her surviving calf. Our hope is to witness nursing and bonding between the two, and significant growth in the calf, in coming days. Naya is recovering normally following the two deliveries.
There is no documented case of twin beluga calves born in the wild. To our knowledge, Naya’s calf represents just the second known instance of a surviving twin in any cetacean species.
Monday morning, Katrl (kuh-TREHL), a 33-year-old Pacific white-sided dolphin, delivered her calf at around 6:20 a.m. after about two hours of labor. Upon delivery, Katrl immediately helped the calf swim to the surface to take its first breath. The animal care team has already observed mom and calf swimming together and will be watching for nursing behavior in the hours to follow. Katrl is recovering normally.
“As we celebrate our new additions, we recognize the need to do all we can to support the mothers, and calves, so that they thrive,” said Peggy Sloan, chief animal operations officer at Shedd Aquarium. “In an extraordinary year of unpredictability, Naya’s historic pregnancy highlights our need to understand beluga reproduction. It also underscored that every birth is significant and contributes to advancing science. Even with a difficult outcome, such as the stillbirth of one of Naya’s twins, we understand the cycle of life and loss and continuously strive to learn from these experiences.”
Animal care and veterinary experts will continue around-the-clock monitoring to ensure that Naya, Katrl and their respective calves have all the support that they need. Scientific observation of the calves will continue as the animal care team collects data on nursing rates, calf growth, mother/calf interactions, etc.
Additional updates on all new arrivals will be shared via Shedd’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Shedd will also make an announcement when guests may have the opportunity to come in and see the calves for themselves.
Every birth at Shedd Aquarium is significant - both for our community and for our world. The aquarium continues to deeply invest in the health and welfare of all 32,000 animals who live there – including these new calves. This responsibility has even greater weight during this unprecedented time. We are grateful to our community who supports and enables this work through their visits, memberships and direct contributions. For those interested in providing important support during this time, you can learn more about ways to give at https://www.sheddaquarium.org/about-shedd/support-us.