This spring, a very special delivery will arrive at Georgia Aquarium. Whisper, a 20-year-old beluga whale, is expecting a calf! Based on our veterinary team’s monitoring and beluga whales’ gestation period of 14-15 months, the calf’s due date is estimated for mid-April of this year. The gender of the calf will not be known until after birth.
The veterinary and animal care teams consistently monitor all our beluga whales’ health and wellbeing through daily training sessions and preventative health care. Through a routine exam, our vets found Whisper’s hormone levels to be elevated, which led them to perform an ultrasound. While ultrasounds are not solely used for pregnancy – they are also used to examine organs and other internal structures – an ultrasound was the best way to further confirm Whisper’s pregnancy.
“Through our program of veterinary care at the Aquarium, we routinely monitor the health and wellbeing of all of our animals which allows us to detect even subtle changes in their health, like the upward trend in Whisper’s hormones,” said vice president of animal health at Georgia Aquarium, Dr. Tonya Clauss. “It has been very exciting to watch Whisper’s progress and see her calf growing with each ultrasound. We are hopeful that she and the calf will have a safe delivery come spring.”
Whisper arrived at Georgia Aquarium in February of 2019 from SeaWorld Orlando, alongside 32-year-old male, Imaq from SeaWorld San Antonio. The two joined Georgia Aquarium’s resident beluga whales, Qinu, Nunavik, and Maple. Beluga whales’ social groups change over their lifetimes and are an important aspect to their daily lives. Whisper and Imaq came to Georgia Aquarium to create a social grouping best suited to all the whales’ needs and natural behaviors. Once all five belugas were joined at Georgia Aquarium, they wasted no time exhibiting natural behaviors like hierarchical social cues, play, and even breeding and courtship behaviors.
“It’s been fun watching Whisper socialize with the other whales at Georgia Aquarium and learn more about her personality. She is one of our more inquisitive beluga whales and it has been very rewarding to see her curiosity grow as she integrates into this social group of belugas,” said Dennis Christen, senior director of animal training, mammals and birds, at Georgia Aquarium. “This is not the first beluga whale calf at Georgia Aquarium and each pregnancy, birth, and calf are different. Myself and our team of animal care staff have been alongside Whisper during each step of this journey and we will be right there with her when it comes time to deliver her calf.”
Over the last several months, Whisper has been receiving the same expert care she and the other whales receive routinely, but with a few changes. As her pregnancy progresses, she will still receive regular ultrasounds, routine check-ups from our vets, and of course, more helpings of her favorite fish as her appetite grows!
Christen continued, “This calf is incredibly important to us, but will also be important to future generations’ ability to see and connect with these gregarious and social Arctic animals. Many of those who encounter them here may see a beluga whale for the first or only time in their life, yet hopefully remember how incredible and important to our planet they truly are.”
As Whisper and her animal care and veterinary teams prepare for the delivery of her calf, stay tuned for updates by following Georgia Aquarium on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or by visiting news.georgiaaquarium.org. For more information on beluga whales, visit Georgia Aquarium’s Animal Guide.