Georgia Aquarium welcomes 2 new beluga whales

The juvenile beluga whales arrived at the Georgia Aquarium Nov. 21 and adapted so quickly to their new home that they are now on display with original resident Maris and her partner of nearly a year, Beethoven.

Both of the newbies -- Grayson, a male, is 3 and Qinu, a female, is 2 -- were born at SeaWorld San Antonio. They arrived via a Fed Ex plane, packed in separate fiberglass containers with temperature-controlled water.

The goal, said Billy Hurley, chief animal officer at the aquarium, is for Grayson and Qinu (pronounced kee-new) to watch the courtship between their elders and eventually mimic the behavior.

Belugas reach sexual maturation between 5 and 8 years of age. There are only 36 belugas in the United States.

At the aquarium Tuesday, Grayson and Qinu glided through the water like synchronized swimmers, playfully spinning around the 1,600-pound Beethoven and 850-pound Maris. Qinu weighs more than 600 pounds and Grayson more than 800.

Their behavior, Hurley said, was exactly what trainers were expecting. “All social animals have a pack mentality, and with that comes a hierarchy of authority,” he said.

Beethoven is the leader of the aquarium’s pack at the moment -- Hurley said the animals tend to reassess that distinction every few weeks -- but appeared relaxed around his new friends.

That could be attributed partially to the fact that this isn’t Beethoven’s first meeting with Grayson and Qinu.

The alpha beluga spent about a year with the youngsters when all of them resided at SeaWorld San Antonio prior to Beethoven’s transfer to Atlanta in February. Maris also spent three months with them when she was transferred to San Antonio during construction on the upcoming dolphin exhibit.

But the extent of recognition among belugas is still a bit hazy.

“They definitely recognize whistles and sounds,” Hurley said.

All four belugas are on display in the Georgia-Pacific Cold Water Quest gallery.

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