There are only a handful of lucky people in the world who can say that their best friend is a big, white whale, and you’re about to meet one! Kelsey Ford has a connection that will brighten your entire day. She and her BFF, Maple, are working together to fill our hearts with joy while saving generations of belugas to come!

Can a beluga whale and a human really be friends? Prepare yourself for some happy tears—you’re about to witness a heartfelt connection between sea life and land-lovers in a touching tail that merges friendship, wonder, and conservation all in one!

Aquariums are a wonderful place to learn and explore the superb yet mystifying beings that call Earth’s oceans home. And when we are able to harness what we’ve learned for future good, things go, well… swimmingly!

For all of you fellow animal lovers reading this article, I’d like to first point out the significant difference between zoos and aquariums, versus amusement parks. Unlike amusement parks, zoos and aquariums usually house animals that were rescued and rehabilitated or born in captivity. But why raise an animal in captivity? Well, dear friend, the answer is simply so that we can learn more about them!

When we know more, we can do more.

Scientists at aquariums (like the one we are about to see) are working with the captive animals in their care to conduct studies that may actually save their species! For example, aerial photography can be used to determine the age and size of the whales in a pod, and help track the overall health of their population by comparing them to the well-fed whales in captivity.

Kelsey Ford, a senior trainer at Georgia Aquarium is one of the rockstars out there working with marine life to help expand our knowledge. Little did she know when she started working there, she would discover her best friend in the process! Watch this video by Georgia Aquarium to meet Kelsey and Maple, her lovable beluga bestie!

‌Is your heart exploding with joy the way mine is?! I love the relationship between these two. Follow the Georgia Aquarium on Instagram and their YouTube channel to see more of Maple and the other adorable animals in their care!

Saving the songs of the sea

Did you notice in the video that the bump on Maple’s head appeared to be squishy? This round structure on Maple’s head is located right in front of her blowhole and is called a “melon”! The melon protects a beluga’s brain, but it is also the organ that controls their sound waves when communicating with each other. Another cool thing about their melon is that the dome actually changes shape as the belugas produce their sing-songy sounds, which are made up of whistles, clicks, and moos! 2

‌These pearly white whales used to be hunted commercially and for sport. Thankfully, this was completely banned in 2005! Nowadays, the major threats to beluga whales are environmental stresses such as pollution, interactions with fisheries, and other human disturbances such as underwater noise. These outside underwater sounds can be very disruptive and confusing for beluga communication, especially when it comes to their mating habits. 3

‌Belugas are known as the “canaries of the sea” because of their complex vocalizations and interactions with each other.

If there’s one seriously awesome thing to come out of COVID-19, it’s that because there has been less ocean freight traffic, scientists have been able to more deeply study beluga whale songs! If you are in the market for a refreshing reminder that there is reason to smile right now, listen to this wonderful episode of Overheard at National Geographic. It talks about what happens when humans pause and let ocean life do its thing! Isn’t it cool that we are able to study them so closely right now, during this exact moment in history?

I wanna be where the belugas are…

In addition to being just unbearably cute, beluga whales are very social creatures too. They hunt and migrate in groups, and they love to interact with humans! There have been numerous viral videos of friendly beluga encounters on the internet in the past few years. Whether they are playing fetch, doing flips, or returning a GoPro camera that went overboard, these majestic mammals are the perfect icon of friendship and playfulness!

You’ll be delighted to know that beluga whales also adore music! Our whole EWC team turned to mush while watching this touching video of a man playing the violin to an attentive beluga audience, filmed by Crystal Pineda.

I’m not crying! There’s, uh, something in my eye…

How do we get others to care?

Alongside their genuine concern for the health and safety of these animals, one of the greatest things that aquariums and zoos achieve is the connection that they create between the animals and the average person. Aquariums make it possible for you to literally look a squid in the eye and really see the beauty that nature has to offer! Aren’t you more likely to care about saving a beluga whale’s habitat after one did a 360 degree twirl and smiled at you?

By inspiring younger generations to care about our planet’s biodiversity, we can keep learning, and keep helping the magnificent creatures who provide us with so much joy and wonder! Furthermore, you can support these institutions simply by going and experiencing the magic for yourself! And hey, who knows, maybe you will meet your new best friend!

Want to further explore our planet’s mesmerizing underwater kingdom? Take a look at some of these articles!

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How TurtleCams are Enlisting Turtles to Protect their Ocean!

Do you remember the viral video of the sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose? It changed the way many people saw our ocean plastic problem. And now, the scientists behind that video are keeping the positive momentum going—this time turning to the turtles themselves for footage of how we can help make a difference!

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Learning Life’s Gentle Lessons with the Seahorse Whisperer!

Can observing the gentle ways of a graceful sea creature actually make you a better person? Rog Hanson is known as the Seahorse Whisperer, and you don't end up with a title like that for no reason! We're diving in with him to discover how we can all grow as humans from one of nature's most elusive miracles.

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Sperm Whales’ Clicks are Expanding Possibility!

What if sperm whales are communicating with language far more complex than we are? Could our view of ourselves change if we learn that they may be as capable of future planning, reasoning, and emotions like love and empathy? These mysteries are beginning to be unraveled!

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Keep dreaming and notice the beauty around you!

~Renee

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Notes:

  1. Georgia Aquarium. “‘Kelsey and Her Beluga Bestie’ by Aquarium Love Stories.” YouTube, 26 Oct. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMEul42PSFo&feature=emb_title. Accessed 27 Aug. 2020.
  2. C, Hannah. “Man Shows How Soft a Beluga Whale’s Head Is.” Science Times, 25 Aug. 2020, www.sciencetimes.com/articles/27025/20200825/man-shows-soft-beluga-whaleshead.htm#:~:text=The%20Beluga’s%20Soft%20Head&text=Its%20melon%20is%20right%20in,animal’s%20sound%20waves%20when%20communicating. Accessed 27 Aug. 2020.
  3. NOAA Fisheries. “Beluga Whale.” NOAA, 2020, www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/beluga-whale#:~:text=Beluga%20whales%20are%20vulnerable%20to,disturbance%20such%20as%20underwater%20noise. Accessed 27 Aug. 2020.
  4. Pineda, crystal. “Beluga Mesmerized by Violin.” YouTube, 23 June 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3JRNvQi4Oc&feature=emb_title. Accessed 27 Aug. 2020.

Renee Laroche-Rheaume

Outreach Coordinator

Renee is a graduate of FIDM, and has held jobs in several industries such as apparel manufacturing, retail, professional office work, and even hospitality! Her creative outlook, wide variety of experiences, and desire to notice the beauty around us make her a great addition to the EWC team!