MYSTIC, Conn. (WTNH) — “It’s a lot of work to move one beluga but to move five belugas across an international border in the middle of a pandemic is WOW,” says Dr. Allison Tuttle, Senior Vice President of Zoological Operations at Mystic Aquarium. And that’s exactly what the aquarium did in May, moving the whales from Canada to Connecticut.
“For us, it was absolutely inspiring, we’ve been working up to this. The facility we moved them from is very crowded,” says Tuttle. “They don’t have the capacity to provide these animals the one-on-one attention and they’re not doing the research we do.”
She explains how the belugas have feeding and training sessions several times a day.
“It’s like school for whales, it’s a great way for them to learn and be engaged simultaneously they get their needed nutrition for the day,” says Tuttle. “The magic of this acclimation was moving a bonded social group of 5 and 6 year olds that already know and like each other and that brought them a lot of comfort when moving to a new facility, and as you can see, they’re settling in beautifully. They’re all 5 and 6 years old, 4 females and 1 male.”
Tuttle talks about acclimating them to the whales that already live at the aquarium: “This is already happening because they’ve been looking through these gates at the other whales and we’ve heard them making the beluga noises, the clicks and whistles, so, they’re communicating, as well.”
And yes, they’ve already gotten the attention of star resident, Juno.
“Juno is wonderful, he makes best animal ambassador because what you see is the wonder of people’s faces when they see this animal they would never see in that way…they become inspired to make a difference,” says Tuttle.
And that’s the future for the new whales who were born in captivity which experts say means they can’t safely be released in the wild. They’ll help raise public awareness and knowledge of this incredible animal.
“This is a pivotal moment for us. We’ve already been a leader in the area of beluga research and this will allow us to be ‘the’ leader in research for conservation purposes,” says Tuttle. “This is exciting and the best part is, it’s just the beginning.”