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A new video released from SeaWorld San Antonio revealed an amazing glimpse of a baby beluga whale inside its mother’s womb. Mom Luna, a 20-year-old beluga whale residing at SeaWorld in San Antonio, received an ultrasound test by veterinary staff on January 11th. The sonogram came out remarkably clear, as the calf’s head, eyes, mouth, and other distinguishing features can be seen in the video footage.
SeaWorld’s team of veterinary experts and scientists employ highly specialized husbandry techniques with the animals in their care as a key part of wildlife conservation efforts. This special training includes teaching beluga whales, like Luna, to hold still and rest comfortably during routine veterinary exams. In part, this learned behavior hopefully allows techs the opportunity to get as clear a picture of the whale fetus as possible. Luna’s previous calf, Kenai, was born on August 11, 2016, after only 30 minutes of labor. At birth, Kenai weighed a healthy 140 pounds.
The average gestation period of beluga whales is roughly 14 to 15 months. Beluga whales typically bear one calf at a time, and twins are rare. According to experts, the first few weeks of a baby beluga whale’s life are the most critical, imparting the best chance for healthy survival. “We will be monitoring nursing, respirations, and other vital indicators, which, thus far, have been positive,” stated Chris Bellows, Vice President of Zoological Operations at SeaWorld San Antonio. “Round-the-clock monitoring enables us to record data that will better help us understand beluga calf growth and development.”
The animal care teams at SeaWorld San Antonio certainly appear to be eager and ready to take on the challenge. “We’re very excited to share this news and will be providing around-the-clock care for mom Luna in anticipation of welcoming this new beluga calf to the SeaWorld family,” stated SeaWorld San Antonio’s Facebook page.
The new calf is a welcome addition to SeaWorld and conservationists alike, as it benefits the beluga population as a whole. Though the whale species itself is not considered endangered, it is categorized as threatened by the U.S. government. The beluga population in Cook Inlet, Alaska, for example, is currently down to approximately 375 whales and is considered endangered, according to the U.S. Endangered Species Act. It is important to note that the population has not increased since 1994.
In the wild, beluga whales inhabit Arctic waters across the globe, including Alaska, Russia, and Canada. They typically live together in groups of 10‒20, called pods. Beluga whales are highly social mammals, as both females and males live together in their pods. When raising offspring, female belugas live in separate pods with their calves, and a singular male leads each female group.
Touted as ‘sea canaries,’ beluga whales are one of the most vocal species of whales. They communicate primarily through echolocation in the vast ocean waters. Due to their social nature, belugas are intelligent and curious and may approach humans, even in the wild.
The current threats to wild beluga populations include whale hunting, urban development, and oil and gas exploration. As with other whales, it is illegal to hunt or harass beluga whales in the United States. SeaWorld strives to educate the public to bring awareness about these marine creatures and their role in the earth’s environment.
About SeaWorld in San Antonio
SeaWorld opened its first park location in San Antonio, TX on May 27, 1988. Since its grand opening, the park continues its unique endeavor to educate the public about protecting wildlife native to both land and sea. For over 50 years, SeaWorld has rescued over 38,000 animals. Their ongoing conservation work includes interactive educational programs, sick and injured animal rehabilitation, and wildlife release. Those interested in learning more about the company can visit www.seaworld.org for additional information.