Beluga whales may be going south Aquarium needs to make room for dolphin babies

February 08, 1992|By David Michael Ettlin

The word "not" was omitted from a sentence in Saturday's article about the National Aquarium planning to send its beluga whales to Sea World. The sentence, relating a comment by Sea World spokesman Bob McCullough about the inclusion of Pacific white-sided dolphins in a 2 million-gallon outdoor pool, should have read that interaction between the two species had not been a problem.

The Sun regrets the error.

An agreement is being negotiated to send the National Aquarium's popular beluga whales to Sea World of Texas, officials at the Baltimore and San Antonio marine attractions confirmed yesterday.

Although the whales will not be leaving Baltimore before next month, the public's opportunity to see them may be further limited. An aquarium spokeswoman said the beluga duo of Kia and Sikku will be removed from the Marine Mammal Pavilion's show schedules when two nearly full-term pregnant dolphins give birth.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The decision to give up the beluga and concentrate on a growing group of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins was announced two weeks ago. It was prompted by the apparent killing of a beluga named Anore by one of the Aquarium's five dolphins during a training exercise Dec. 23.

Aquarium officials said they were unwilling to risk further contact between the two species amid an increasingly vocal opposition to the captive display of marine mammals, and faced logistical difficulties in keeping them apart in the year-old, $35 million pavilion's interlocking pools at the Inner Harbor.

Aquarium spokeswoman Vicki Aversa said Kia and Sikku, both female, would be sent on breeding loan to the San Antonio facility -- one of four Sea World parks around the country, where they would join seven other female beluga and three males.

The Texas park opened in 1988, and maintains its beluga group -- along with a group of Pacific white-sided dolphins -- in an outdoor pool holding approximately 2 million gallons of artificial seawater, said Sea World spokesman Bob McCullough. He said interaction between the two species had been a problem, and that the park has not had a beluga death to date.

"We have the best facilities in the world for caring for marine mammals," he said.

Round-the-clock observation of the pregnant dolphins Hailey and Shiloh is to begin Monday at Baltimore's aquarium, relying on specially-trained volunteers looking for behavioral changes that might signal the onset of labor and ready to record any blessed event on videotape.

Ms. Aversa said that as soon as birth occurs, the beluga will be moved to a "resting pool" connected to the main exhibition tank and no longer take part in the scheduled shows that will continue to feature dolphins.

"You won't get to interact with them like visitors did before," Ms. Aversa said of the whales.

"If we didn't have the pregnant dolphins, the situation wouldn't be the same."

The mothers and their nursing calves will be kept in another resting pool, and the Aquarium plans to halt the shows and close the Marine Mammal Pavilion amphitheater for two days following the births "to give the calves every chance to do well in that critical time," Ms. Aversa said.

Development of the unborn calves has been monitored through medical examinations, including periodic sonograms like those given to pregnant humans. The latest sonograms were taken Thursday, and showed both fetuses to be active and seemingly healthy.

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