Baby beluga whale born at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium

Baby beluga whale: This baby is one of 35 beluga whales in captivity in North America. But is it a girl – or boy – baby beluga whale?

(AP Photo/Shedd Aquarium, Brenna Hernandez)
Mother and child: Mauyak, a beluga whale at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, swims with her newly born calf at the aquarium's Abbott Oceanarium. Shedd’s animal care team estimates that the calf is 4½ feet long and weighs about 150 pounds. The newborn is the sixth successful birth at Shedd.

There's a new baby beluga at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium.

Aquarium officials announced the baby beluga whale was born early Monday at 4 1/2-feet long and 150 pounds. Officials say both mother and calf appear to be doing well and are under 24-hour observation by animal health staff.

The calf is the third baby for its mother, Mauyak (pronounced my-AK'). Animal care experts at the aquarium say the baby has taken its first breath and tried to nurse with its mother.

“We are thrilled to welcome the newest member of the Shedd Aquarium family. A newborn calf must reach several milestones in its first days and months so we remain cautious; however, the calf has demonstrated incredible progress,” said Ken Ramirez, executive vice president of animal care and training at Shedd. “Mauyak is an experienced mom having given birth to two calves in the past, so the labor was quick and went very smoothly.”

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“In less than 24 hours after birth, the calf achieved the first critical milestones that we look for, including taking its first breath, bonding with mom and we’ve seen attempts at nursing,” continued Ramirez, who has nearly four decades of marine mammal expertise, including serving as the past president of the International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association (IMATA).

Shedd officials don't yet know if it's a boy or a girl.

During the first few critical days following a birth, Shedd’s animal care experts do not physically interact with the whales. Instead, the team observes day and night, allowing time for the mother to nurture her newborn and build a strong bond. As a result, the marine mammal staff has not determined the calf’s gender through a physical examination, according to the statement released by the aquarium.

The baby beluga arrives less than three months after the Shedd Aquarium had the birth of its first Pacific white-sided dolphin calf on Memorial Day. The baby whale is the sixth successful birth since 1999 for the Shedd as part of the beluga whale breeding cooperative.

Mauyak came to Shedd in 1997 from Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash. as part of the aquarium’s involvement in the North American beluga whale breeding cooperative. Shedd is one of seven North American zoological institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA) that manage the health and future of the beluga whales in their care through coordinated breeding partnerships. Today, more than 35 beluga whales are part of the North American breeding cooperative program.

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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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