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Dive in at Shedd Aquarium's oceanarium

May 24, 2010 3:32:42 PM PDT
One of the most popular animals at the Shedd Aquarium is the magnificent beluga whale which calls the 3-million-gallon saltwater oceanarium home.Currently, eight of the beautiful belugas call the oceanarium home, including its newest resident who was born last December.

Shedd is part of a North American breeding cooperative that helps study, care for, and breed the belugas. In the wild, they live in the vast Arctic Circle and there are critics that say the wild is the only place belugas should be.

"There is no substitute for the Pacific Ocean, except for the Pacific Ocean," said Ken Ramirez, VP Animal Collections & Training, Shedd Aquarium. "You don't want to replicate everything in the wild - many things there animals face in the wild are quite stressful. They're always worried about predators, they don't know where the next meal is coming from, they have to worry about finding a mate, they have to worry about finding a structure to live in. We provide all that for them."

Extensive training sessions teach the belugas behavior that helps in their care. It's also a good aerobic workout that keeps them physically fit, according to the Shedd trainers. They are very social animals and enjoy interaction.

Food prep for the marine mammals starts at 5:00 a.m. Workers sort through 800 pounds of restaurant grade fish.

A walk-in refrigerator stores food for the marine mammals. Inside is a storage freezer that holds up to 60,000 pounds of fish that will feed about three dozen animals for one month, and it's very cold in there - 10-below zero.

"Parasites live in fish; freezing kills the parasites. When you go to 10-below zero, most of the most deadliest parasites that can affect these whales can't survive at 10-below zero," said Ramirez.

A private room allows for underwater observations at the oceanarium. When the male calf was born last year, he was monitored around the clock for three months.

After a difficult birth and some early swimming and nursing challenges, Shedd trainers say the little guy is healthy, strong and developing right on schedule. The only thing missing - is a name.


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