MYSTIC, CT - Sea Research Foundation’s Mystic Aquarium has welcomed Naluark (Na-loo-ark), a male beluga whale from Chicago’s John G. Shedd Aquarium. Naluark comes to Mystic with the hope that he will breed with one of the aquarium’s two female beluga whales.
“Shedd is committed to working with other zoos and aquariums to further breeding, conservation and research efforts with the animals we care for,” said Ken Ramirez, executive vice president of animal care and training at Shedd Aquarium. “We are proud to continue our collaboration with Mystic and to be a principle player in the North American breeding cooperative.”
“We have a long-standing animal care and research relationship with Shedd,” said Dr. Stephen M. Coan, president and CEO of Sea Research. “We are excited once again to collaborate with Shedd and hope we will soon see a calf in our Arctic Coast exhibit from which we can learn more about these fascinating animals in our care and in the wild.”
Naluark arrived in Mystic following a carefully coordinated marine mammal transfer protocol that required meticulous planning by both institutions’ animal care, animal health and operations teams to ensure the most efficient and safe mode of transport. During the transport, which included two truck transfers and a flight on a chartered plane, Naluark rested in a customized “hammock” that supported his body weight. The hammock was secured inside a specially-designed container filled with water to keep him cool. Veterinarians and animal care staff from both aquariums remained at his side throughout the entire transport to ensure his comfort and health.
Naluark has joined three beluga whales in Mystic Aquarium’s Arctic Coast exhibit, one of the largest outdoor beluga exhibits in the nation. Neither Naku nor Kela – Mystic Aquarium’s two females – has mothered a calf before, so they have been identified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) as top priority for breeding.
“It would be beneficial for all AZA institutions if a calf were bred from one of our females, as it would increase genetic diversity within the association’s beluga population,” said Dr. Tracy Romano, executive vice president of research and zoological operations at Sea Research. “It would also contribute significantly to our ongoing beluga research, helping us better understand behaviors, social interactions and the connections between mother and calf health.”
Naluark, an Inuit word meaning “whitened skin,” weighs 2,100 pounds and is just over 13 feet long. Born in 1986, he has sired three calves at Shedd. Though Naluark may not breed immediately, he could create social competition that would stimulate Juno, the male beluga who came to Mystic in 2010 on a breeding loan from SeaWorld Orlando, to breed.
The length of Naluark’s stay in Mystic past this breeding season depends on a number of factors, including breeding behaviors and success. Traditionally, beluga breeding season takes place from March to May annually.