Aquarium's baby beluga 'critical' after birth

by: Linda Stouffer Updated:

Experts say first-time pregnancies in beluga whales have a very low success rate. Experts say that is also true in the wild.
ATLANTA —

The Georgia Aquarium has a birth announcement, but it comes with some serious concerns. A baby beluga is in critical condition, and specialists are running 24-hour intensive care to monitor the baby's condition.

William Hurley, chief zoological officer, told Channel 2's Linda Stouffer, "It's really very similar to an ICU (intensive-care unit) ward at a maternity clinic in a hospital."

He said this is a delicate moment, and it could go either way.

The whale weighed 82 pounds, which is actually 30 pounds underweight for a beluga baby. More than 60 specialists were in the water for the crucial first moments, said Hurley.

"The calf came out of mom and began to sink slowly through the water column. It just wasn't ready to take its first breath. Our divers responded; brought her to the surface," Hurley said.

Specialists feed the newborn by tube every 90 minutes and take small blood samples to monitor function and electrolytes. The young whale swims in the main beluga habitat and in a smaller medical pool. Because the whale is in a compromised condition, the baby is not able to nurse.

First-time pregnancies in beluga whales have a very low success rate. Experts say that is also true in the wild. The mother, Maris, is doing very well.

The beluga habitat is off-limits to visitors for now; it's closed off by a thick, black curtain.

The staff is on edge, hoping the Aquarium's first beluga born there survives.

"It's a miraculous moment to be with this animal. We have very guarded optimism as to how this is going to work out. Obviously, it could go the wrong way for us, but it won't be for the lack of our professionalism and efforts," Hurley said.
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