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It’s a girl! Shedd introduces baby beluga

The baby belugwhale Shedd Aquarium Tuesday October 23 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

The baby beluga whale at the Shedd Aquarium on Tuesday, October 23, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 25, 2012 11:35AM

This baby ought to be in pictures.

Just 8 weeks old and weighing about 215 pounds, the Shedd Aquarium’s new baby girl calf performed for a gaggle of news cameras on Oct. 23, nursing her mother, sloughing her skin by rubbing against a grate and swimming elegantly both upside-down and right-side up.

Aquarium visitors can get their first look at the fun at 11 a.m. Oct. 26, when the underwater viewing area housing the unnamed calf, mother Mauyak and “surrogate mother” Naya opens to the public.

“We are really, really pleased with how well the calf is developing,” said Ken Ramirez, Shedd’s executive vice president of animal care and training, describing the new addition as “very playful and very, very curious.”

Ramirez predicted the calf would be as big a fan of the attention from visitors as her mother is.

“The calf looks to mom for clues about whether she should be engaged,” Ramirez said. “Mom has always found the guests fascinating and I think so will the calf.”

The calf weighed less than 130 pounds when it was born on Aug. 27. She nurses about 10-20 seconds once every 30 minutes, a diet that has led to a steady weight gain of about 12 to 15 pounds each week.

Naya, playing the role of “surrogate mother,” also nurses the calf, though at this point the Shedd staff does not believe she is producing much milk. Sexually mature female whales and dolphins can “spontaneously lactate,” giving the mother a rest in feeding her child, Ramirez said.

Typically, the mother will nurse about 80 percent of the time and the surrogate the remaining 20 percent, he said.

The still-unnamed calf is one of six successful births at the Shedd, which is part of a cooperative beluga breeding program.

The calf’s mother, Mauyak, is responsible for three of the births, including the new calf and whales Qannik (kah-NIK) and Miki (MEE-kee).

The calf’s dad, reliable Shedd sire Naluark, was moved to Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Conn., in hopes of fathering calves there.

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