A baby beluga whale born at the end of August is starting to shed its slate-colored skin for the more mature creamy-white covering, and the baby is a "she," aquarium staff have just announced.
The ever-growing calf, now 5 feet (1.5 meters) long, will make her public debut Friday (Oct. 26) at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. Both mom and baby are plumping up, as the calf weighs about 205 pounds (93 kilograms) and is steadily packing on 12 to 15 pounds a week. Her 1,200-pound mom Mauyak has nearly tripled her normal diet — downing up to 88 pounds (40 kg) of fish daily — to accommodate a hungry, nursing calf.
"In just two months, the calf has gained weight and reached significant milestones, including bonding with mom, nursing and meeting all of the other belugas," Ken Ramirez, Shedd's executive vice president of animal care and training, said in a statement.
"While she continues to thrive, this initial development phase is always a critical time for any calf, so our animal care and animal health teams will continue to monitor her around the clock."
The beluga calf is doing what any smart little one would be — she's experimenting with playtime. Not only is she playing with fish her mom drops, but the baby beluga is interacting with humans as well. Ramirez said she has started to approach trainers in the water for a tongue tickle or head rub.
As the calf matures into an adult, she will slough off her slate-colored skin for a creamy white one that, in the wild, would blend into an icy backdrop. Beluga whales live in the icy waters of the Arctic and sub-Arctic, as well as in the Cook Inlet and the St. Lawrence River.
There's a chance one of the calf's talents could be mimicking human voices, as just recently scientists at the National Marine Mammal Foundation found their male beluga named Noc could do just that.
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