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Beluga Calf Update - Bye-Bye, Qannik!

They’re literally fluid: Wild beluga populations are impermanent, changing size and composition according to season, food supply and reasons known only to the whales. Wild belugas come and go.

The same holds true for the 30 or so belugas in the nine aquariums and zoos that make up the North American beluga breeding cooperative. Animals move among facilities to ensure the reproductive success of this special population. In early June, it was time for Qannik, a male born at Shedd in August of 2000, to move on.

“We know he’ll be sexually mature by age 10,” says Ken Ramirez, Shedd’s vice president of animal collections and training, “but it’s possible that it could be sooner. It’s not wise to have him living with his mother by the time he becomes sexually mature.”

Unlike a young male beluga in, say, western Hudson Bay, however, Qannik took leave of his mom and the rest of the Shedd belugas by air, traveling on a chartered DC-8 transport plane to Tacoma, Washington, and the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium.

He was accompanied by Ken and another member of the Shedd marine mammals staff, as well as by animal-care staffers and a veterinarian from Point Defiance, to ensure his safety during the flight and his successful acclimation at his new home.

The transport was flawless and Qannik adapted quickly to the new scenery. After all, it looks a lot like the Oceanarium out there.

“He probably adapted more quickly than most animals might,” says Ken, “because of his easygoing personality and his age. He’s young and independent.”

Ken explains that Qannik’s bond with his mother ended several years ago, which is normal, and that the young male didn’t have special ties to any of the other whales. “He was happily integrated into the group, but he didn’t have what I would call a strong bond with any animal that was going to be severely impacted by his departure.”


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