ABC7 viewers choose whale's new name

June 14, 2010 (CHICAGO) Nunavik means friendly, beautiful and wild in the Inuit language. The name was chosen by ABC7 viewers. The winner of ABC7's "Shedd Aquarium Experience" is James Slack of Valparaiso, Indiana.

Now 6 months old, Nunavik's hit a few milestones.

"He's grown from about 154 pounds to 425 pounds," said Ken Ramirez, vice president of animal collections and training, Shedd Aquarium. "He's also gotten to know us. Since his mom trusts us, he trusts us."

And that keen sense of trust is seen daily during the interactions with Shedd trainers. Typically this type of formal training doesn't begin for several more months, but the little guy is a quick study and is ahead of the game.

Over the next 6 to 12 months, he'll begin eating fish as he's weaned off his mother's milk. As he becomes more independent, he'll begin interacting with the other whales. This first year is the most critical period in the calf's development.

"A mom can stop producing milk, and we'd need to switch over to solid food much more quickly. We also worry because in the first year of life, the calf is like a baby and can get in trouble, cause fights with other whales, just being mischievous sometimes," said Ramirez.

While the young male calf does get into a bit of mischief, most times his behavior is quite admirable. Over the next couple of years, the calf's grey-colored skin will turn to a snowy white tone, nature's camouflage to blend into the icy waters of the Arctic Circle.

Shedd research teams learn much about the beluga social structure by comparing mother-calf relationships in the wild to those at the aquarium.

"One of the things we didn't realize is how often mother belugas in the wild depend on the other females to help the raising of their young," Ramirez said.

Even at the young age of 6 months, this brave calf ventures away from his mom more and more each day. Quite the character, this beautiful, friendly baby beluga most definitely lives up to his special Inuit name!

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