by: Linda Stouffer Updated:
ATLANTA - They are expecting a bundle of
beluga at the Georgia Aquarium.
Maris is 14 months into her first pregnancy, and the animal care team is watching her closely for any signs she's ready to deliver her calf.
It could come any day, but more likely will happen in a few weeks.
"Oh, I can't define our excitement. It's beyond measure,"
Senior Aquarium Vice Presidet Billy Hurley told Channel 2's Linda Stouffer.
Hurley showed Stouffer the whale's progress up close Wednesday.
"Sometimes when she's lying in that position you'll actually see the baby move. You'll actually see that stomach move, ripples move," Hurley said, pointing out where the calf can been seen in the whale's stomach.
The animal care team is now on baby watch 24/7. They are staffing the habitat at all hours, and have teams on
standby to be ready no matter when signs of labor begin.
For months, trainers have been getting the aquarium's three
belugas accustomed to changes in preparation for the big day, including adjustments in lighting and staffing around the pool.
Maris gets extra health checks as veterinarians monitor her breathing, eating and behavior.
Visitors to the Georgia Aquarium can see a temporary watch tower set up in front of the viewing window, where workers also keep an eye on underwater cameras.
When the calf is born, the mother and baby will be isolated and the exhibit could be closed for an undetermined amount of time.
Ultrasound images show the beluga calf could be 50 to 75 pounds at birth.
It's the Georgia Aquarium's first major mammal birth.
Hurley told Stouffer there is always a chance that the birth will not be successful.
Hurley said this is a rare pregnancy, and only a few are born each year.
"We keep our fingers crossed, we put all of our science and all of our intellectual might behind
it -- and then we see what happens," Hurley said.
Belugas are considered near-threatened in the wild.
Stouffer asked Hurley about his best hopes for the calf.
"Certainly our best hope is this calf comes out, Mom does a great job of being maternal and knowing how to invest, and all we have to do is stand back and watch the miracle of nature," Hurley said.