It was a memorable Mother’s Day for Maris, the beluga whale.
Early that Sunday morning, Maris, a 20-year-old resident of the Georgia Aquarium, gave birth to a 126-pound female.
It is a rare occasion. Aquarium officials believe the new baby beluga may be the first surviving calf born to parents who were themselves born in captivity.
The new baby isn’t the first for Maris. In 2012, she delivered a female calf, but the newborn infant was unable to swim. She was rescued by divers, but survived only a few days. This calf has been healthier. Shortly after she was born at 1:25 a.m. May 10, the baby beluga swam to the surface to take her first breath.
“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,” Dr. Gregory Bossart, senior vice president and chief veterinary officer, said in a statement.
To allow the staff to focus on Maris and her calf, the beluga exhibit will be temporarily closed until further notice, according to a statement from the aquarium. During delivery, the two other belugas at the aquarium, Qinu and Grayson, were penned off from Maris’ pool, to leave mother and baby alone.
Once it is clear the infant is healthy and bonding with the mother, the other belugas will be allowed inside. It is hoped that Qinu, a pre-adolescent female, will learn about child-rearing by watching Maris at work and will also become a mother someday.
After a few weeks, the aquarium plans to host a naming competition to help pick a handle for the baby whale.
Maris was born at the New York Aquarium in 1994, and came to the Georgia Aquarium in 2005. The baby’s father, Beethoven, was born at SeaWorld San Antonio in 1992. Beethoven is currently at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, on a breeding loan.
The team of veterinarians and trainers at the Georgia Aquarium is hopeful that the new baby will do well, though there are several milestones over the next days and weeks that this calf must surpass to ensure its survival. These include: continued growth and nursing efficiency; the ability to eat whole fish; eventual independence from the mother.
Updates on the baby can be found at www.georgiaaquariumblog.org.