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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.
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.
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.