Shedd Aquarium is Expecting a Dolphin and Beluga Whale Birth this Year

Tue, 3/6/2012 - 5:04 PM

By Sheena Quinn

Chicago, IL - Shedd Aquarium announced today that two members of its marine mammal family are expecting – Piquet (PEE-ket), a Pacific white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens), and Mauyak (My-AK), a beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas). Every marine mammal pregnancy allows Shedd to contribute vital information to the body of knowledge shared throughout the international community of marine mammal experts, improving our understanding of how best to help both wild and aquarium populations around the world.

“It’s an exciting time at Shedd with two marine mammal pregnancies,” said Ken Ramirez, executive vice president of animal care and training. “While we remain cautiously optimistic, both Mauyak and Piquet are healthy and their pregnancies are progressing normally.”

Shedd’s world-class team of animal care staff has a long history of experience with marine mammal births.

“Animal care is our top priority at Shedd,” said Caryn Poll, DVM, section chief of medicine at Shedd. “Pregnancies for cetaceans, especially for those who are first-time mothers, often have a low success rate due to a number of differing factors. But both females are healthy and doing very well. Ultrasounds and blood tests have indicated that both calves are also doing great. Our animal care and veterinarian teams will continue to keep a close eye on both mothers, providing consistent monitoring and care, through the birth and beyond.”

Beluga Whale Mauyak’s Pregnancy

Thirty-year-old Mauyak, one of four female belugas at Shedd, is estimated to give birth between September and November this year. She has had two successful births – Qannik (kah-NIK) in 2000 and Miki (MEE-kee) in 2007 – since arriving at Shedd in 1997 from Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash., a move coordinated by the North American beluga whale breeding cooperative.

Shedd is one of seven North American zoological facilities that are committed to the public display and breeding of beluga whales. Including Qannik and Miki, Shedd has had five successful whale births in the last two decades; the others are Kayavak (KYE-yah-vok) in 1999, Bella in 2006, and Nunavik (NOO-nah-vik) in 2009. Today, there are 35 belugas whales part of the North American breeding cooperative program.

Naluark (nah-LOO-ark), who sired three of Shedd’s calves, is also the father of the calf expected this fall. Through the breeding cooperative, Naluark is currently at Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Conn., in an effort to help increase the genetic diversity within the AZA beluga population.

Mauyak, which means “soft snow” in Inuit, weighs about 1,200 pounds and is approximately 11 feet long. Beluga experts estimate that the gestation period for beluga whales is between 14 and 16 months.

Pacific White-sided Dolphin Piquet’s Pregnancy

Pacific white-sided dolphins are estimated to have a slightly shorter gestation period, nearly 12 months. Shedd’s animal care experts have estimated that Piquet will give birth this May. This is the first pregnancy for Piquet, whose name means “female of small stature.” She is 24 years old and weighs about 200 lbs.

“These charismatic animals are just one way we live up to our mission to connect people to the living world. Pacific white-sided dolphins create meaningful connections with our guests and help us educate millions of people about marine life and aquatic issues throughout the world,” said Ramirez.

Shedd is one of only four North American aquariums that exhibit Pacific white-sided dolphins. “Through our expert care,” Ramirez continued, “Shedd’s animal health team has gained insight into this rarely studied species, allowing us to share and contribute critical reproductive and neonatal data with the scientific community.”

Piquet’s pregnancy is the result of a cooperative breeding program with Miami Seaquarium. A male dolphin at the Seaquarium, Lii (LEE-ee), is the father.

There are fewer than 20 Pacific white-sided dolphins in North American facilities. According to Ramirez, partnerships with sister institutions, such as the Miami Seaquarium, are essential to protect the genetic diversity of the species’ population in zoos and aquariums.

Shedd Aquarium is an accredited member of both the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA), contributing further to research and scientific opportunities.

Guests will continue to see Mauyak and Piquet participating in daily programs in the Abbott Oceanarium, Shedd’s world-class marine mammal pavilion, according to Ramirez. “The best thing for both marine mammals is to keep their activity levels consistent. Training sessions give the belugas and dolphins physical and mental stimulation, and provide Shedd’s animal care staff with regular opportunities to observe them, which is so important to maintaining their health.”

More information will be available on Shedd’s website,

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