Mauyak, a female beluga whale that had lived at Shedd Aquarium for a quarter of a century, has died, aquarium staff said.
Mauyak was 41 and died Saturday, they said.
“She was a very independent whale, extremely playful and was an attentive mom to her calves,” said Peggy Sloan, Shedd’s chief animal operations officer. “The matriarch of our beluga pod, her passing is heartbreaking to everyone who loves beluga whales. And yet, we are so grateful for what we have learned by caring for her for over three decades — from helping field researchers better understand her species to inform wild populations and their management to their unique world of communication that includes squeals, trills, chirps and amazing mimicking abilities.”
Mauyak, whose name meant “soft snow,” came to Shedd from Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington. Mauyak was perhaps best recognized by the dark gray streaks on her glistening white sides. Mauyak was 11 feet long and weighed 1,500 pounds.
“She quickly became, and remained throughout her long life, an incredible ambassador for beluga whales, touching the lives of millions of people who were able to look her in the eye, marvel at her beauty, and experience her one-of-a-kind characteristics,” senior animal caretaker Megan Vens-Policky said
“Her legacy of impact is not only left on those she inspired during visits to the aquarium, but also on researchers in the field. During her pregnancies at Shedd, our measurements of Mauyak’s growth contributed to a photogrammetry study — images that allow field biologists to identify pregnant whales more accurately in the wild to protect them. It is a privilege to be a part of advancing welfare and science that will help to ensure these beautiful creatures remain on our blue planet for generations to come. I am so grateful to have known Mauyak. She will be profoundly missed.”
In the wild, belugas are considered “near threatened.” They are found in arctic and subarctic waters along the northern coasts of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia. The adult beluga can grow up to 15 feet long and weigh more than 3,000 pounds. They feed on herring, octopus and squid and will eat up to 80 pounds of fish each day.