May 22, 2015
Since the first few hours after birth, Georgia Aquarium’s 12-day old beluga whale calf began showing nursing behavior. Despite the calf’s strong instinct and attempts to nurse, it took several days for Maris, a first time mother, to learn exactly how to nurse her calf.
In addition to showing nursing behavior, the calf has completed several key milestones including successful birth and bonding with her mother. There are still some very critical milestones to overcome, most notably significant weight gain, which the team is addressing on a day-to-day basis. At this stage we define the calf’s condition as stable but guarded.
As of now, the team has not seen the desired weight gain in the calf. We measure success by monitoring the calf’s body condition, watching her behavior and activity, and monitoring Maris’ energy intake. Our focus now is that the calf is able to consume enough calories to gain weight and grow. In order for calves to build their blubber layer, it is necessary for them to receive the proteins, essential carbohydrates and exceptionally high fat found in beluga milk. While seeing nursing behavior is a positive sign, the team is aware that a delay in nursing can impact the calf’s growth.
To remedy the situation and help the calf gain weight, we are supplementing her caloric needs with formula, which mimics beluga milk. Concurrently, the team is also assessing Maris’ milk production as well as the calf’s nursing efficiency. The team continues to monitor both mom and calf 24-hours a day ensuring that they receive appropriate nutrition, and are provided with all other necessary care.
Georgia Aquarium is monitoring and documenting the development of the calf closely, with daily update videos posted at www.georgiaaquarium.org/babybeluga