Mauyak, a 38-year-old beluga whale at Shedd Aquarium, underwent a routine ultrasound earlier this month to check in on her developing calf.
One of eight beluga whales at the aquarium, Mauyak is expected to give birth this summer following a gestation period of 12-15 months.
She continues to swim with the aquarium’s other belugas but will soon be under around-the-clock observation as she approaches a potential delivery date, according to Shedd.
“Mauyak’s pregnancy is progressing well, and our team remains cautiously optimistic,” said Steve Aibel, Shedd’s senior director of marine mammals, in a statement. “As we enter the final stretch of her pregnancy, she will continue to receive optimal care from the trainers and vets who know her best – all of whom are trained to watch for signs that the calf may be on its way.”
For the check-up procedure, Mauyak lay on her side next to Shedd’s veterinary staff, allowing them to ultrasound her abdomen and view videos of the developing calf. .
Mauyak – whose name means “soft snow” in the language of the Inuit, the native people of the Canadian Arctic – is already mother to 6-year-old Kimalu, the last beluga whale born at the aquarium (in 2012).
Information and data about Mauyak’s current pregnancy is being shared with other aquariums and zoos, along with field researchers, according to Shedd. Experts hope knowledge gained from Mauyak’s experience and other studies will allow scientists and conservationists to more easily identify and protect pregnant beluga whales in the wild.
Belugas are distinguished by their white color and the distinctive melon-shaped organ at the front of their head, which allows them to navigate by listening to the echoes of their calls. Found in the Arctic and the circumpolar waters of North America, Russia and Greenland, the whales can grow up to 18 feet long and weigh more than 3,000 pounds.