[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] Aquarium's prized beluga whale baby in a struggle for survival


Atlanta, GA - The Georgia Aquarium on Friday night welcomed into the world its first-ever beluga whale calf -- and ever since its staff has worked around the clock to keep the prized mammal alive.

The beluga baby, the first to be born from parents who were born in captivity, emerged from her mother in a weakened state and weighing only 82 pounds. The female calf is said to be in critical condition and under 24-hour veterinary care.

This is not surprising, considering that newborn beluga whales often do not survive with first-time mothers, in the wild and in captivity.

But the Georgia Aquarium staff, which anticipated a life struggle, worked during the pregnancy to train the mother how to nurse and care for her first baby, which was conceived naturally and not through artificial insemination -- a rarity among captive belugas.

It also placed divers in the water at the time of birth, to help the female calf surface and take her first breaths.

Because the calf is too weak to nurse, the staff is feeding her a mineral-rich formula from colostrum collected from the mother, whose name is Maris.

"Since the moment of birth, our animal care and veterinary teams have been giving around-the-clock care to Maris and her calf, taking every measure possible to ensure that the calf thrives," said Dr. Gregory Bossart, the aquarium's senior vice president and chief veterinary officer. "We became concerned when the calf didn't demonstrate that it could swim alongside its mother. Without our response, this calf would not have survived."

There is some promise, as Maris' maternal instincts are becoming more evident, according to the aquarium blog.

"Given that this is Maris' first pregnancy, we are certainly pleased to see the development of her maternal behavior," stated William Hurley, chief zoological officer. "[But] there are many milestones over the next several days and weeks that this calf must surpass, that will be extremely critical to its survival. We are hoping for the best, but the reality of the situation is, we still have a long way to go."

There are only six facilities in North America that contain belugas, and only a handful of births occur each year. Maris was born at the New York Aquarium in 1994, and the father, Beethoven, was born at SeaWorld San Antonio in 1992. Beethoven is the first beluga calf to be born in captivity.

There was little change in the calf's condition as of late Tuesday morning and Hurley said the 24-hour care will continue for Maris and her baby for "as long as is required."

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