Georgia Aquarium introduces two new beluga whales

A pair of beluga whales has joined the squad at Georgia Aquarium.

Imaq (pronounced ee-mack), a male, and Whisper, a female, arrived last weekend from Sea World San Antonio and Sea World Orlando, respectively, and were quickly introduced to Georgia Aquarium’s current residents Qinu, Nunavik, and Maple.

They are the first new beluga arrivals since Maple in 2016.

Dennis Christen, senior director of zoological operations at Georgia Aquarium, said the introduction process – first to each other and then to the trio already on site – went smoothly.

“They’ve been swimming throughout the habitat and spending a lot of time together,” Christen said. “Once we introduced (Imaq and Whisper) to each other, the response was fairly immediate.”

The newcomers then went through the socialization phase with Qinu, Nunavik, and Maple, where they could first hear and see each other through different gates in their habitat. After interacting, the gates were opened and, said Christen, “it was fairly anti-climactic. It was pretty much an instant jell.”

The newcomers joined the existing belugas in Cold Water Quest gallery earlier this week, where they are on public display.

Whisper, 19, and Imaq, 31 (he’s 2,000 pounds and the largest whale at Georgia Aquarium), were acquired through a collaborative effort among beluga holding aquarium partners.

In 2015, Georgia Aquarium nixed plans to grow its beluga collection with wild-caught specimens.

“We’re really taking a strong look at where we have different living situations and conditions relative to life stage and reproductive capability,” Christen said.

Female belugas begin breeding between 6 and 8 years of age and start producing calves around 10. In 2017, Georgia Aquarium relocated Aurek to Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium to be near breeding-age females.

Georgia Aquarium endured a string of beluga losses the past few years when two newborns died – in 2012 and 2015 – both the products of then-matriarch Maris, who died unexpectedly of heart failure in October 2015 at the age of 21.

The average lifespan of a beluga is 35-50.

A fivesome is likely the largest this beluga crew will grow at Georgia Aquarium.

“It’s a number that seems to be quite comfortable,” Christen said.