TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A thousand-pound, 6-year-old beluga whale arrived at
Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium early Sunday after a flight on a chartered
military transport plane from his previous home at Chicago’s John G. Shedd
Qannik, an Inuit name for snowflake, traveled tucked inside an enormous,
foam-padded plexiglass tank in the DC-8 plane for a cross-country flight that
cost $84,000, according to officials at the Tacoma aquarium.
Point Defiance officials say they paid nearly $120,000 to bring their baby
beluga to his new home.
Qannik (pronounced kah-NIK’) is the offspring of a female named Mauyak, who
left Tacoma for Chicago in 1997. Both whales belong to Point Defiance and are
participants in a nationwide cooperative breeding program.
The aquarium kept the timing of Qannik’s move under wraps to stave off
protests, officials told The News Tribune of Tacoma for a story posted on the
paper’s Web site Sunday.
Some animal rights activists argue whales should not be held in captivity,
and they oppose airlifting the marine mammals.
A veterinarian monitored Qannik throughout the trip, Point Defiance officials
“While we are fully prepared for emergencies during transport, the need for
medical intervention is highly unlikely,” Dr. Allison Case said in a
Qannik was born in August 2000, a year after the first successful birth of a
female beluga at the Shedd. Currently 11 feet long and about 1,000 pounds,
Qannik is expected to reach 14 to 16 feet in length and possibly double his
weight within a few years.
In Tacoma, he’ll be joining Beethoven, a 14-year-old male beluga who has been
swimming solo since his tank mate, Turner, died of a liver malady in
Qannik’s trainer from the Shedd Aquarium and his new trainer from Point
Defiance each made the 2,000-mile journey with him from Chicago to Tacoma.
Veterinarians will determine when Qannik is ready to meet Beethoven.
Qannik’s trainers told The News Tribune they may keep him isolated for days,
even weeks, if necessary.
Mauyak, whose name means soft snow, arrived in Tacoma in 1984 after being
captured from Hudson Bay in Manitoba. She gave birth to two calves at Point
Defiance, but both died — the first in 1992 of a malformed respiratory system
and the second two years later of drowning when her blow hole opened under
The death of the second calf was attributed to Mauyak’s inexperience, so to
help her learn by watching other females she was moved to the Chicago
aquarium in 1997 as part of a national cooperative breeding program.
She bore another calf that also died soon after birth in 1998, then was
successful with Qannik after witnessing several other whales deliver their