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|Aquarium's Beluga Whales Begin Summer Encounter Season as Visiting Animals' "Vacation" Ends|
The beluga whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins “vacationing” in Mystic for the past nine months have safely completed the nearly 1,000-mile trip back to Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. With the animals safely home, guests at Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration can once again participate in the seasonal Beluga Encounter program, which allows them to wade in the water with one of the aquarium’s three resident beluga whales, Inuk, Naku and Kela.
The seven whales and four dolphins arrived at Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration last September for a temporary stay while their home – the Oceanarium at Shedd Aquarium – underwent extensive renovations. Twelve staff from Shedd also remained in Mystic to provide consistency in the animals’ care.“The opportunity to accommodate Shedd Aquarium’s animals was truly beneficial for everyone – the animals, both aquariums’ staff and our guests, who were able to see Pacific white-sided dolphins and interact with beluga calves for the first time in the Northeast,” said Dr. Stephen M. Coan, president and CEO of Sea Research Foundation, Inc., which includes Mystic Aquarium. “Their stay marked an important milestone in our long-standing animal care and research relationship with Shedd Aquarium, and we look forward to working together again in the future.”“Having Shedd’s animals and staff here provided us the unique opportunity to share knowledge and learn from one another over an extended period of time,” said Dr. Tracy Romano, senior vice president of research and zoological operations at Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration. “We are sad to see them leave but grateful for the research and animal care collaborations we were able to establish. The knowledge gained from these collaborations will ultimately improve the quality of life for belugas in the aquarium setting and in the wild.”Similar to their arrival, Shedd’s animals departed from Mystic via two carefully coordinated marine mammal transports, spending most of their travel time on a plane. Two of the dolphins were transported to Florida during a separate move. While the two organizations are experienced with marine mammal transports, the animals’ arrival and departure were two of the largest for both. “We are pleased that all of our animals are in good health and quickly readjusting to their new homes,” said Ken Ramirez, senior vice president of animal collections and animal training at Shedd Aquarium. “Animal care is our top priority. During both transports, which were planned over the course of a year, our expert animal care staff remained at the animals’ side to ensure their needs were met and they remained comfortable both on land and in the air.” The back pool of the Arctic Coast exhibit, which housed some of Shedd’s whales during their stay, will again be used for the aquarium’s popular Beluga Encounter program this summer.During the 90-minute Beluga Encounter program, participants get a close-up experience with one of the aquarium’s three whales. After slipping into waterproof waders, guests get waist-deep in the water to interact with a whale and see how they breathe, spout and “sing,” or echolocate. Guests will also help aquarium trainers carry out various husbandry behaviors – natural behaviors that allow staff to closely monitor animals’ health – with the whales.The Beluga Encounter program takes place daily now through October, with a limit of six people per session. Cost is $159 per person (cost includes aquarium admission). Participants must be at least five feet tall. Those under 12 years of age must be accompanied by a participating adult. Spaces are limited. To make a reservation, call (860) 572-5955, ext. 520. Visit mysticaquarium.org for more information on the encounter program and the aquarium’s beluga whale exhibit, one of the largest in the nation.About Sea Research Foundation, Inc.
Mystic Aquarium, Institute for Exploration and Immersion Presents are divisions of Sea Research Foundation, Inc., a private, non-profit, charitable organization incorporated in the State of Connecticut. The mission of Sea Research is to inspire people to care for and protect our ocean planet through education, research and exploration.
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