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Beluga Calf Update - 8/29

What's a day in the life of Puiji's calf like? Busy! Ken Ramirez, our v.p. of animal collections and training, provided this composite account of the 6-week-old calf's daily activities, based on the continuing 24-hour observations by his staff members.

12:01 a.m. A new day, and a new observation shift, begins. The calf is resting at the surface, mimicking his half-dozing Mom. (When a whale or dolphin rests, only one side of its brain goes into sleep mode, and only one eye closes. The other side of the brain is wide-awake, with an eye pealed for predators.)

12:15 a.m. The observer approaches Secluded Bay from the public walkway to count the calf's respirations. The calf notices and drifts away from Mom, perhaps curious about this middle-of-the-night activity.

12:25 a.m. The calf starts nuzzling Puiji's side, as if to say, "Wake up, Mom, I'm hungry!"

12:35 a.m. Puiji finally gives in to the calf's petitions and begins a slow swim. The calf ducks under her, bumping her mammaries, which stimulates milk production.

12:37 a.m. The calf latches onto Mom's left mammary for 22 seconds, then breaks off for a breath of air.

12:38 a.m. The calf attaches to the left mammary again, this time for only nine seconds. He takes a quick breath, then latches on for 14 seconds more.

12:39 a.m. Mom slows and moves into a resting position again. The calf continues nuzzling Mom and mouths her dorsal ridge.

12:42 a.m. When he doesn't get a response from Mom, he gives up and swims over to the Misty Passage gate to look through the mesh at the other belugas.

12:45 a.m. Absorbed with the equally curious grown-up whales, the calf doesn't notice that the observer has appeared again on the walkway to check his breathing rate — a regular task at 15 minutes and 45 minutes past each hour.

1:05 a.m. Naya, the 17-year-old companion beluga in the habitat with Puiji and the calf, begins a slow swimming pattern around the habitat. The calf decides to slipstream with her.

1:18 a.m. Puiji joins them, and they all swim in a resting formation.

1:20 a.m. The calf moves under Puiji's mammaries to nurse again.

1:21 a.m. He suckles from Mom's right mammary for 38 seconds.

1:22 a.m. The calf returns to Mom's side and does not attempt to nurse again.

1:29 a.m. The three whales glide into a piggyback formation: Naya atop Puiji and the calf atop Naya. They swim in a slow resting pattern for more than 30 minutes.

2:06 a.m. The calf breaks formation and drifts under Puiji, who also breaks out of formation but turns her ventral side away from the calf.

2:07 a.m. The calf maneuvers to Puiji's belly, but Mom keeps rolling the opposite way.

2:09 a.m. Finally Puiji allows the calf to nurse, and he latches on for 15 seconds.

2:10 a.m. The calf nurses again for 14 seconds.

2:11 a.m. The calf grabs another 3 seconds' worth of milk.

2:12 a.m. Puiji surfaces and begins to drift, which is her typical way of resting. The calf joins her, as does Naya.

2:56 a.m. The sudden loud splash of a dolphin breaching in Whale Harbor startles the trio awake, and they swim rapidly around the habitat.

2:57 a.m. The three belugas slow to a normal swim speed, and without warning, the calf scoots below Mom for a 24-second nursing bout.

2:58 a.m. He latches on one more time for 12 seconds.

3:00 a.m. The belugas continue this low-key behavior for the next three hours, with the calf nursing every 30 to 45 minutes.

6:13 a.m. Daybreak casts golden light into Secluded Bay. Time to rise, shine and scratch. Puiji rubs her back against a rock formation, and the calf
follows suit, although not with the same degree of coordination.

6:02 a.m. Mom is really enjoying scratching an itch — perhaps some loose skin — but the calf seems to tire of this behavior, and he swims off to another part of the habitat to explore.

6:16 a.m. The calf takes a milk break.

7:40 a.m. Puiji and Naya have their first feeding and training session of the day. The calf trails Mom to her feeding station at the edge of the trainers' island and watches for a few minutes.

7:44 a.m. The calf finds the action at the medical pool gate more interesting, where the other belugas are watching the feed and making a lot of sounds.

8:00 a.m. Staff divers arrive to clean the Secluded Bay pool, and the calf moves close to Mom. Puiji, who is used to this activity, swims calmly, which seems to reassure the calf that everything is okay.

8:06 a.m. The divers enter the water. The calf stays close to Mom and nurses on schedule. When Puiji occasionally approaches the divers, whom she likes, the calf follows and watches.

8:55 a.m. The divers surface and leave the water.

9:10 a.m. One of Mom's toys, the "kelp forest" (made of the "soft cloth" strips used in car washes) is tossed into the habitat. This startles the calf, who takes off around the pool. Mom joins the calf in the speedy swim and within minutes both are cruising in a normal swim pattern.

9:14 a.m. Puiji begins to swim in and out of the "kelp," an activity that will keep her occupied on and off for the next four hours. The calf watches and follows Mom, but doesn't touch this new object in the water.

9:30 a.m. A training session for the whales in Misty Passage begins, and the calf leaves Mom to watch that activity through the gate.

9:42 a.m. Naya joins Puiji in playing with the kelp forest toy, which seems to pique the calf's curiosity. He approaches and watches, but he won't touch it.

11:00 a.m. The calf watches as Puiji and Naya have their second meal of the day.

12:00 Tyler, a large sea lion, is moved to the medical pool. This gets the attention of all three belugas. The calf hangs at the gate watching this strange creature for more than 15 minutes.

2:00 p.m. Puiji and Naya have their third feeding and training session. This time the calf chooses not to watch but to swim around the habitat practicing his newly acquired clicking skills. He sounds a lot like his mom.

2:25 p.m. The calf is unfazed when a trainer outfitted with snorkeling gear enters the pool. This is a daily event, and the calf is comfortable enough to come within 2 inches of the trainer's mask.

2:55 p.m. Several staff members haul the kelp toy from the pool while all three belugas watch.

3:30 p.m. During another feeding and training session for Puiji and Naya, the calf stays close to Mom.

3:46 p.m. The calf practices spitting - something he sees his mom do often. He seems to enjoy it as much as she does, and he amuses himself with projecting water into the air for nearly 20 minutes.

5:00 p.m. Puiji and Naya have their final meal for the day, after which the calf nurses.

5:30 p.m. A diver enters Secluded Bay for the evening dive. She stays longer than usual because Puiji is so playful tonight. The calf watches this activity carefully.

6:05 p.m. Trainers throw two boogie boards — miniature surfboards — and other toys for Puiji and Naya to play with throughout the night.

6:15 p.m. For the next two hours, Puiji and Naya switch playing with the toys.

7:02 p.m. As Puiji approaches a toy, the calf cuts her off and tries to steer her away from it, as if he doesn't want her to get near this unknown object.

7:25 p.m. The sun is setting, the Oceanarium is getting dark, and the activity level in Secluded Bay is slowing down. Puiji and Naya go into resting mode, which is how they started the day.

8:32 p.m. The calf begins another nursing set. Even as all three whales rest, the calf continues to nurse every 30 to 45 minutes, through midnight, giving him the energy he needs for another busy day.


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