Our Role in Research & Conservation
SeaWorld San Antonio Welcomes Beluga Calf
The SeaWorld team is excited to welcome a new addition to the beluga family. At 12:34pm (CT), park veterinarians, animal care staff and trainers were on hand as the experienced mother “Crissy” gave birth to the calf, which weighed approximately 125 pounds.
Both Crissy and the calf are doing great! It will take some time before animal care specialists can get close enough to determine the gender.
At birth, beluga calves are generally dark gray to bluish or brownish gray, becoming darker at about one month. Belugas change to white as they age and reach maturity around 5 years old, though they can take up to 8 years to turn completely white.
This calf is also a chance for researchers to study beluga development in ways that cannot be used in the wild, helping to benefit wild whales as well as those in SeaWorld’s care. Dr. Heather Hill from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio leads a research team studying behavioral development of beluga calves and the impacts of calves on the group dynamics of beluga. The facilities at SeaWorld literally “put a window into the world of the beluga” allowing Dr. Hill and others the opportunity to collect behavioral and physiologic data that translates to beluga in the wild.
"This birth is important in educating the public to better understand and conserve this protected species,” said Chris Bellows, SeaWorld San Antonio’s vice president for zoological operations. “Today’s birth is valuable for not just SeaWorld, but also for researchers and accredited zoological facilities committed to caring for and protecting beluga whales.”
The new calf has already been observed bonding with the mother, Bellows noted, and the calf is expected to begin nursing soon, one of the first signs of health and well-being in a newborn. The first weeks in the life of a cetacean (dolphin or whale) are critical. Like other marine animals, belugas face threats in the wild such as ocean pollution and increased shipping traffic.
“SeaWorld is deeply committed to the health and care of all our animals,” Bellows said. “We will be monitoring the calf’s nursing, respirations and other vital indicators which, thus far, have been positive. Round-the-clock monitoring enables us to record data that will better help us understand growth and maturation in beluga whales.”
In order to allow mother and calf time to bond, Beluga Stadium will be closed for the immediate future. But, guests can attend “visiting hours” beginning later this week to greet the newest addition.
Through the work at our marine parks, as well as through the support of the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, SeaWorld supports belugas in the wild through conducting research with the beluga whales in our care and by contributing to research and conservation initiatives of others across the globe. In the past three years alone, the Conservation Fund has supported five different conservation projects directly supporting beluga whales. The projects range from understanding how noise in our environment is affecting beluga whales to studying the metabolisms of reproductive female belugas and their calves to understand how many calories they need per day to survive.
Did you know SeaWorld has had an important role in assisting researchers in over 20 published studies? The projects range from health to social behavior in beluga whales, see them all here.
Kenai, SeaWorld San Antonio’s one year old beluga whale. Kenai, a male calf, was born Aug. 14, 2016. He weighs more than 430 pounds and eats 6 pounds of fish daily. At birth, beluga calves are noticeably darker in color than their mothers, and Kenai will gradually become snowy white over the next five years as he becomes an adult. The grey color is a form of countershading that helps beluga whales blend in with its surroundings, therefore, protecting them in the wild.
When Kenai is not swimming alongside his mom, Luna, he’s busy serving as an animal ambassador for beluga whales. Kenai was named after the Kenai Peninsula and the Kenai Fjords in Alaska, both of which are near the Cook Inlet, home to an endangered population of beluga whales.
As park guests visit Kenai and the rest of SeaWorld’s beluga pod, they can learn about endangered pods like those near the Cook Inlet and how they can help.