Something’s in the water at the Shedd Aquarium.
Puiji and Naya, two of the aquarium’s beluga whales, are pregnant after enjoying some big love with male beluga Naluark, aquarium officials announced Tuesday.
What can the belugas expect while expecting?
Frequent ultrasounds masquerading as massages, 300 pound weight gain and a water birth which includes the delivery of not only a five-foot-long beluga calf but a 50-pound placenta, said Ken Ramirez, Shedd’s senior vice president of animal collections and training.
“It’s a very exciting time but also a very nervous time,” Ramirez said.
And the nerves, remarkably, come from aquarium staff, not the whales, whose 14 to 16 month gestation and lonely labor results in the birth of an average 125 pound calf.
In beluga habitats, love ‘em and leave ‘em is the status quo.
“In the wild males spend most of their time with other males,” Ramirez said. “They move in to breed with as many females as they can during breeding season. Then they never see the mother or calf again.”
If these two calves survive, they will join four others born at the Shedd Aquarium, part of a successful 12-year-old beluga breeding partnership which includes 35 whales in eight different North American locations.
“We’re very careful about making sure we preserve genetic diversity — who is related to whom,” Ramirez said. “With eight different organizations working together we can treat the entire population as one.”
Puiji, Naya and Naluark mated in Chicago, before the whales were moved to Mystic, Conn. during the Shedd’s recent renovation.
This isn’t the first pregnancy for either whale, or the first time two whales have been pregnant together at the Shedd.
Naya’s first calf was stillborn, and Puiji’s first calf died shortly after childbirth.
Her second calf, Bella, is a 3-year-old living at Shedd.
Naluark is the father of Bella as well as Miki, who turns 2 years old Aug. 17.
Puiji’s baby could be born as early as this month and as late as October. Naya is due September through November.
The pregnant whales currently remain on display at the Shedd.