Sunday, June 07, 2009

Aurora the beluga whale gives birth at Vancouver Aquarium

Photo of Aurora and her calf courtesy Vancouver Aquarium

Aurora, a 20-year-old beluga whale at the Vancouver Aquarium, gave birth on June 7, 2009. The event occurred at 3:39 PM (PDT) following a three-hour labor. The aquarium’s veterinary team is 90% certain that the calf is female (it can take up to six months before actual gender is determined). 

Immediately following the birth, the calf swam to the surface of the water for his/her first breaths, the beginning of many critical milestones in the development of a newborn calf. Aurora’s natural maternal instincts were also evident as she instinctively picked up her calf, guided her to the surface for breaths and swam continuously with her by her side.

The calf and mother are doing well and will remain under 24-hour observation by the aquarium’s veterinary and marine mammal care teams. Veterinary staff estimate the calf’s length to be 1.5 meters (~5 feet) and her weight to be 60-70kg (132-154lbs). The new baby is a slate, smoky grey color that will gradually lighten as the whale matures; calves are normally quite wrinkled for the first several weeks.

Vancouver Aquarium members and visitors will be able to view Aurora and her yet-to-be-named calf from 5-6 meters away on the upper deck of the Beluga habitat. Marine mammal care staff and researchers will observe behaviors and interactions, while interpretive staff will present the information to visitors.

Aurora’s delivery of a calf marks the first occasion for two beluga calves to share a habitat at the Vancouver Aquarium. This is new territory for the aquarium, and when to introduce mother Qila and one-year-old Tiqawill will be determined in the next few days.

Aurora’s calf was sired by Imaq, the sole male beluga whale at the Vancouver Aquarium. Aurora’s daughter Qila (pronounced: KEE-lah) age 13/14 and granddaughter Tiqa (pronounced: TEE-kah) age 1, are temporarily located in an adjacent habitat. The aquarium’s other two beluga whales, Imaq 21 and Kavna 39, are being cared for in a behind-the-scenes habitat.