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Baby Beluga Frolics With His Relatives

The John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago is the world's largest indoor aquarium, housing nearly 8,000 aquatic animals representing some 650 species of fishes, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds and mammals from waters around the world.

The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm went to the shores of Lake Michigan to meet Puiji from Canada and other friendly Beluga whales who greeted her with cheer at the oceanarium.

Each whale's name is based on the language of the Inuit, the native people who live near the Belugas' natural habitat. Naluark and Qannik are male. Mauyak , Puiji, Naya and Kayavak are female. The adult Belugas range in age from approximately 7 months to 18 years

Shedd's whales come from northern Pacific Ocean, which has the largest population of Belugas in the world. The aquarium collected one of the six whales in 1989 and two others in 1992. Two, including a calf born at Shedd in July 2000, are on loan from the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington, as part of a cooperative breeding program. Another Beluga was born at the aquarium in August 1999.

These whales are called canaries of the sea, said marine mammals director Ken Ramirez, because the sound they make is pretty loud. "All of the sounds they make come from the hole on top of their head, which is call the blow hole. She breathes through that," he explained.

Since its opening in 1930, the aquarium's mission has been to enhance public understanding and appreciation of the aquatic world. And Beluga whales really love human touch. "A big part of training is building a relationship," Ramirez said as Storm tickled Puiji's tongue with her hand and fed her. The whales eat 40 to 80 pounds of food per day, including two kinds of fish- herring and capelin - and squid.

Puiji was born at the aquarium and is part of a breeding program that cooperates with facilities all over the country, Ramirez said. There are 40 of these whales in North America.

The Ooeanarium also hosts Alaska sea otters and harbor seals re-creating a Pacific Northwest coastal environment. Winding nature trails lead guests through a rugged stretch of temperate rain forest including realistic plant life, streams and tide pools, illustrating the fragile relationship that exists among animals, plants, land and ocean.

Oceanarium guests can watch the dolphins' natural behaviors such as dives, breaches, porpoising and spyhopping during educational presentations scheduled daily.

Large viewing windows in the lower gallery of the oceanarium offer guests face-to-face encounters with the whales and dolphins. A series of hands-on exhibits explains how marine mammals and birds adapt to survive in their watery environment. In a separate exhibit area, a colony of penguins lives in a naturalistic Falkland Islands habitat.

In April, the aquarium will open the Wild Reef exhibit, bringing together the largest shark collection in North America and Philippine coral reefs.