Mother's Day took on a whole new meaning for the folks at the Georgia Aquarium following the triumphant birth of a beluga whale - the first to be born to parents bred in captivity. And mother and baby are doing just fine.
The baby whale emerged at 1:25 am, weighing a stocky 126.5 pounds and measuring 59 inches. The newborn's mother, Maris, was doing well, which was a relief to aquarium staff following her failed attempt at birthing back in 2012. The previous calf was born weighing a scant 82 pounds and despite efforts by the dedicated staff, it died several days later.
Greg Bossart, the senior vice president and chief veterinary officer at the aquarium, spoke of the complexities of birthing the whales in captivity.
"It's a daunting challenge," he said. The calves are born underwater and must surface immediately for their first breath. If they aren't fast enough, they can drown. The aquarium staff went to great efforts to insure Maris' latest calf made it safely to the surface.
From the time Maris' pregnancy was announced, the vigils ensued. Throughout the course of her 467-day gestation, the staff maintained a presence, so that the expectant mother would grow accustomed to personnel in the tank. When the delivery began, over 100 staffers and volunteers stood anxiously by as three-person teams worked in 20-minute shifts to support Maris in her efforts.
And it appears their hard work has paid off. The delivery went smoothly and the small calf rose gracefully to the surface for its first breath.
"Some people went airborne," said Eric Gaglione, director of zoological operations at the aquarium, describing the staff's reaction to the birth. And personnel continue to be optimistic about the calf's chances.
"She was attempting to nurse only four hours after she was born, which is a strong sign," Gaglione said. The baby has also been receiving supplementary feedings, which the staff obtains from Maris using a colossal breast pump to extract the milk. So far, the regular 16-ounce feedings, which take place every 3-4 hours, have been successful and the calf continues to thrive.
Over the course of the next month, the calf will have to master her watery surroundings. And the staff from the Georgia Aquarium will be right there to support her.