The baby beluga is now two weeks old, but still of an uncertain future.

Nov 16, 2006

 The baby beluga whale born last November 2nd, a male, has just completed two weeks of life, although its possibilities of survival continue to be slim, as explained the Oceanográfic’s Director of Biology, Pablo Areitio, and the head of the veterinary service, Daniel García.
The baby beluga is now two weeks old, but still of an uncertain future.

 

Nevertheless, both stressed the success that the birth of this baby animal represents for the understanding of biology and, in particular, for the conservation of these animals, as well as, the valuable experience its mother, “Yulka”, as far as future pregnancies are concerned.
The baby whale, currently measuring 160 centimetres and weighing 65 kilograms, is the first of its species to be born in an European aquarium It is a unique event for which the Oceanográfico has received congratulations from all over the world.

The probability that the baby may not survive these first weeks and months continues to be high, bearing in mind that, in their natural habitat and among the babies of first-time mothers of this species, the mortality rate is around 58%. In the case of the beluga whale born in the Oceanográfico, the main problem resides in that it has still not fed directly from its mother due to Yukla’s inexperience and to the possible mobility problems of the young beluga.

Pablo Areitio explained that the Oceanográfico of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias is in continuous contact with specialists from international centres in the hope of ensuring the survival of the beluga baby. Experts from the Vancouver Aquarium of Marineland Canada in Ontario, Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, the Aquarium of New York and of Sea World San Diego, with great experience in this field, are advising the Oceanográfico’ s staff, although they also warn of the huge difficulty involved in getting animals to overcome this situation.

“Although the provisional results may be considered positive, we continue to be very cautious. All the experts of the Oceanográfico are doing their best to make the animal feel well”, said Pablo Areitio, who explained that extra staff had been taken on exclusively for feeding, caring for and watching over the baby. Moreover, he stressed that they are also receiving help and collaboration from Valencian Universities and Research Centres.

Exhaustive Follow-Up

For his part, Daniel García pointed out that the baby “was already gaining weight and improving his mobility although his condition is not entirely normal”. The Head of the veterinary service explained the “exhaustive” follow up and control that is being undertaken both on the mother and bay. From the third to the fifth day milk was obtained from the mother by milking her and then administered directly to the baby “and the quantity estimated as necessary was made up for with artificial milk. Once the mother’s milk production was used up and for two days the baby was fed with artificial milk complemented with blood serum from the mother, very rich in immunoglobulins”. Now, and every three hours, the animal is fed with 400 cm3 of artificial milk to which is added vitamin complements and immunostimulants, among others.

In parallel, antibiotics and antifungals are administered to prevent the development of illnesses. Every day the baby is weighed in order to check if its development is normal and every two days a blood sample is taken for analysis. Additionally, the baby is being encouraged to swim through exercises in the water and the mother’s milk production is also being stimulated by controlled training with the baby. If considered necessary, additional tests, such as auscultations, echographs, cytologies and cultures, among others, are carried out.

At the same time, data is being gathered so as to understand the mother-baby relationship of this species and records are being kept, within the research project, on the acoustic behaviour of belugas a process that has been going on since 2003.

As a calm and comfortable atmosphere is essential for the beluga family, the “Arctic” building, where other examples are to be found, has been closed to the public. When considered safe to do so and once the stability of the young beluga’s development has been confirmed, restricted and controlled visits will commence. Meanwhile, at different points of the Oceanográfico, a film of the mother and baby in their installation is being shown, so that the public may carry away with them an image of this singular event.