Reporting John Cody
CHICAGO (CBS) – The Shedd Aquarium’s new beluga calf is now officially on public display after Friday’s debut at the where she’ll be seen at the Abbott Oceanarium; but she won’t be able to hear the spectators, for a very good reason.
WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports the two-month-old female beluga calf has already grown to 215 pounds.
Shedd Vice President Ken Ramirez said she will be seen through the viewing windows of the Secluded Bay. The windows are designed to transmit light, but definitely not sound.
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“The Underwater viewing gallery was designed so that it’s very difficult for the public to do any kind of distracting down here. We have six inches of acrylic, followed by an inch of air, then an inch of glass. The inch of glass is actually embedded in rubber, so when we knock on this window, they don’t react to it, because they can’t hear it,” he said. “Now, I don’t like to say that, because the reality is we don’t like people knocking on the glass. Certainly with our fish and some of the other animals, that can be distracting, but when we built the Oceanarium, we built it so that it’s very hard for the public to distract from down here.”
Ramirez said the beluga calf is gaining two pounds a day nursing with her mother, Mauyak, and should have a life expectancy over 30 years.
Beluga whales swim head first, but are born tail first, a mystery until Shedd Aquarium staffers spent years watching beluga births.
Ramirez said years of intensive study have unraveled a mystery of beluga birth.
“One of the things that we didn’t understand very well is when a beluga calf is born backwards – which is head-first for a beluga calf – they often don’t survive. We didn’t really understand why that was until several years of seeing dolphins and whales born in aquarium settings,” he said.
Ramirez said tail-first birth is necessary to give time for the tail to work in the water, and stiffen up. Otherwise, if born head-first, “their tail isn’t firm enough to allow the calf to propel itself to the surface for a breath of air. So it often sinks. Mom will do its best to bring that calf to the surface. Well, here in a zoological environment, because the mother trusts us, we can have divers in the water able to help, and bring the calf to the surface for a breath of air.”
Ramirez said the beluga calf’s diet of milk will gradually switch to squid and herring in about a year.