This video is the stuff of childhood dreams: A Beluga whale playing with kids at an aquarium on the other side of his tank. Teasing them — and giving them the old side eye — while eliciting a sound that can only be described as joy. And it’s been viewed nearly one million times on YouTube in little over a week.
That is what happened at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut last October and Michelle Cotton caught it on her cell phone. Her son Mikey, then 3, and friends Jack and Lily Donahue, then 4, were at the tank when Juno the Beluga whale began playing with them. Michelle posted the video last year, but it took social media by storm only recently.
Although the kids are delightful, the unquestionable star of the video is Juno. At 12 years old, he is the youngster in his 750,000 gallon tank that covers nearly an acre. You can tell Juno apart from the other two Belugas in the tank by the gray markings on his dorsal ridge.
Sign up for The Nightly newsletter from Brian Williams and the Nightly News team.
Juno loves to play and loves the camera. You can find him on YouTube delighting other children and seemingly dancing along to a mariachi band.
Some think Juno’s behavior is exhibiting signs of stress from living in a tank instead of the ocean. Dr. Tracy Romano, executive vice president and head of zoological operations at the aquarium, insists the critics are wrong.
"The behavior that you're seeing in the video is absolutely not stressful behavior. Juno is choosing to engage and interact,” Dr. Romano said. “He can be - he can go anywhere that he'd like and he chooses to be right at the window with our guests.
For Michelle Cotton and Jack and Lily's mother, Erin Donahue, this video is more than just a charming childhood moment caught on video.
Michelle Cotton via YouTube
A beluga whale teases children at an aquarium
All the attention is giving the moms a chance to talk about a genetic disorder afflicting two of the three children. Mikey and Lily suffer from fatty oxidation disorders or FODs. This means they cannot break down fatty acids into energy. As a result, the kids need to be fed far more than just three meals a day. Michelle and Erin have calorie counters going in their heads all the time. They are constantly estimating how many calories each child will expend and making sure they eat enough so they have the necessary energy. Though both children have forms of the disorder that are manageable, it is not easy. Lily has been hospitalized 14 times, the most recent being for eight days around the Easter holiday.
So when you listen to the video, put yourself in the moms' shoes, and appreciate the sound of hearing your child laugh, just like any other child, without having to worry about their health. It really is a moment of pure joy.
First published August 26 2014, 3:39 PM
Anne Thompson is NBC Newsâ€™ chief environmental affairs correspondent. Her reports appear across all platforms of NBC News including â€œNightly News with Brian Williams,â€ â€œToday,â€ MSNBC and NBCNews.com.
... Expand Bio
Thompson was tapped for this position in April 2007. Most recently, Thompson led coverage on the Gulf oil spill, covering all aspects of the crisis from the beginning to when the well was finally killed. This extensive coverage made Thompson the NBC News correspondent with the most airtime in 2010, according to the Tyndall Report. She traveled to Copenhagen to cover climate change negotiations, Greenland, Costa Rica, the Amazon, Australia and Europe to cover such issues as alternative fuels, global warming, land usage and new technologies.
From March 2005 to April 2007, Thompson served as chief financial correspondent reporting on financial and economic news for NBC News. Thompson has reported on the economic impact of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, the increased cost of health care and its impact on the economy, alternative fuel vehicles, identity theft, and the politics of the credit card industry. In addition, from a financial perspective, she covered the trials of Martha Stewart, Bernie Ebbers and Tyco.
In 2006, Thompson received the prestigious Gerald Loeb Award, and she was part of the "Nightly News" team that won the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Journalism Award and the Emmy Award for coverage of Hurricane Katrina. In 2004, she was awarded the Gerald Loeb Award for distinguished business and financial journalism for a series of reports that aired on "Nightly News" on the jobless economic recovery. She was also nominated for four business and financial news Emmys.
Thompson first joined NBC News in 1997 as a national correspondent, reporting on a variety of stories including Daimler Benz' takeover of Chrysler, the death of John F. Kennedy Jr., and the execution of Timothy McVeigh for "Nightly News," "Today" and MSNBC.
In 2000, Thompson was NBC News' lead correspondent covering the presidential campaigns of Democratic hopeful Senator Bill Bradley and Republican hopeful Senator John McCain. She has also covered a variety of national stories including filing reports on women in business, the birth of the McCaughey septuplets, the school shooting in Paducah, Ky., the Columbine school shooting and the attack on the World Trade Center.
Before being named an NBC News correspondent, Thompson had been an award-winning general assignment reporter for WDIV-TV, the NBC affiliate in Detroit, since 1986. While at WDIV, Thompson was honored with seven Emmy Awards for a variety of stories, including her coverage of the Jessica DeBoer custody battle, a profile of Kirk Kerkorian and his attempted takeover of Chrysler, a series on two serial killers in the Detroit area, and a report on the near riots that broke out following the Detroit Pistons' championship win in 1990.
From 1983 to 1986, Thompson was a consumer reporter at KSDK-TV, the NBC affiliate in St. Louis, Mo. She began her broadcasting career at WNDU-TV in South Bend, Ind., where she served as a general assignment reporter from 1979 to 1983.
Raised and educated in Europe, Thompson received her high school diploma from the International School of Brussels in Belgium. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies from University of Notre Dame, where was elected as a member of the Board of Trustees in 2010.