Visitors to Shedd Aquarium have ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the baby beluga born last December. Until now, though, they've had to do it through glass, catching glimpses of the calf through the underwater viewing gallery.
But this week, the aquarium took down a privacy wall that had been constructed to give mom Puiji and her newborn time to bond. Visitors can now get an unobstructed above-water view of all nine of the belugas in Secluded Bay, the Pacific Northwest-themed lagoon exhibit.
Jessica Whiton, a senior trainer at Shedd, says the adult whales love the change, especially showboat Naya. Belugas are naturally playful animals, and love interacting with the public -- from the constant high-pitched calls to the occasional spit of water.
As for the calf?
"He doesn't really seem to notice," Whiton says. "His world right now is beluga whales and his mom and eating and playing."
The calf, who is still awaiting a name, has been playing little brother to Miki and Bella, the aquarium's 3- and 4-year-old whales, and is growing more independent every day. He's also just plain growing -- he is now 6 feet long and almost 400 pounds, he almost twice his birth weight.
And though he still gets most of his food from his mom, Puiji, he's starting to eat fish, sort of.
"He puts them in his mouth," Whiton says. "Actually eating them is a different story" -- something every parent can relate to.
The beluga whales are part of the Shedd's Polar Play Zone, the aquarium's first permanent children's exhibit. Kids can splash around in a hands-on tidal pool, dress up like a penguin, take a simulated yellow submarine ride, and get underwater views of sea otters, penguins, dolphins, and seals. For hours and admission information, click here.
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