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Kayavak facts for kids

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Kayavak (born August 3, 1999) is a female beluga whale that currently resides at the Shedd Aquarium in downtown Chicago. She is the only daughter of the mother beluga named Immiayuk. The father whale, Inuk, was moved to Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, to breed with other whales.

Early life

Kayavak was born on 3 August 1999 to a beluga named Immiayuk at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and was described by Shedd as "a happy, healthy and curious calf". As part of a Shedd tradition, she was given an Inuit name. "Kayavak" means "singing game producing soft echoes".

Death of her mother

Immiayuk died suddenly on December 26, 1999. The cause of death was erysipelas, a rare bacterial infection found in the fish that the whales eat. Many feared that Kayavak would also soon die without the nurturing of her mother. The aquarium decided that Kayavak might be rejected if introduced to another adult female, Puiji, for nurturing purposes, and it was feared that even the best substitute formula would not give her enough nutrients. (The first such substitute was used for the first time in July 2010 when a beluga calf at SeaWorld San Antonio was rejected by her mother).

Kayavak needed around-the-clock monitoring and constant attention. Trainers hand-fed her with fish every three hours, although the beluga is not usually weaned for a year.

Second year and transition into adulthood

During her first year Kayavak had only been in contact with two other beluga whales, being her mother and Puiji. The aquarium then decided that she was ready for contact with the other resident whales: Naya, Mauyak, and adult male Naluark. Mauyak was pregnant and was extremely aggressive towards Kayavak, while the other two also displayed antipathy.

In 2000, Mauyak gave birth to her first calf, a male named Qannik, who befriended Kayavak. The two young whales shared the same father, and they were separated in June 2007, with Qannik being sent to Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, where he died in 2009. Kayavak started spending more time with Naluark, an adult male to whom the aquarium had been reluctant to introduce Kayavak.

As Kayavak matured sexually, she became subject to abuse by older whales, including Naluark and Mauyak.

As of August 2011, Kayavak is a healthy 12-year-old whale and lives with another seven of her species at the aquarium. She is ranked lowest in the natural hierarchical system of that whale community. She can be identified by a distinct white birthmark that somewhat resembles that of a human palm. Kayavak usually is the star of the Beluga Encounter Program that allows people to interact with the Shedd's beluga whales.

She has earned the nickname "the sassy one" by her trainers due to her playful and rebellious nature. It is hoped that she and Naluark could have a calf together in the future.

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