If you thought nine months was long, try 16 months. That's the gestation period for Beluga whales -- and for one such whale in the Zoo of Valencia, the waiting came to an end on Thursday.
For the first time ever in Europe, a Beluga whale gave birth to a cub in captivity. The eight-year-old mother named Yulka -- the youngest of her kind to give birth in a zoo -- finally brought her baby into the world following eight hours of labor.
Even more unusual for whales in captivity, the baby whale was not conceived by artificial insemination. The 90-kilogram cub and her mother appear to be in good health, zookeepers at Valencia's Arts and Sciences Oceanographic Center said on Friday. The whales will remain under intensive observation and inaccessible to the public for the next 30 days. Biologists say this period is critical, because the cub needs to be nursed and it is unclear whether Yulka will do so instinctively, given her many years in captivity.
Yulka will be nursing her young one for two years to come. The cub is expected to reach sexual maturity after five to eight years, depending on its gender, which has not yet been determined.
To date, there have been 20 newborn whales worldwide in aquariums in the United States, Canada and Japan. Belugas, also known as White Whales, live for up to 40 years.